EU unveils plans to rein in big firms on profit reporting, tax

STRASBOURG (France) • The European Union unveiled plans yesterday to force the world's biggest multinationals to fully report their earnings and pay their fair share of taxes, saying the Panama Papers scandal added to the need for change.

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, said that under the new rules, big firms operating in Europe would have to make public what they earn in each member state of the 28-nation bloc.

Country-by-country reporting has for years been a major demand of tax activists who accuse big corporations of secretly shifting profits from major markets to low-tax jurisdictions, often through the use of shell companies such as those exposed in the Panama Papers leak.

"The Panama Papers have not changed our agenda but strengthen our determination to make sure taxes are paid where profits are generated," EU Financial Services Commissioner Jonathan Hill told a news briefing at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

Longstanding criticism of corporate tax policy blew up into the open with the Lux Leaks scandal in 2014, which exposed the secret sweetheart tax deals given to huge corporations - including the likes of Ikea and Pepsi - by the small duchy of Luxembourg.

"This proposal is a simple, proportionate way to increase large multinationals' accountability on tax matters without damaging their competitiveness," the commission said in a statement.


An activist performing at a protest against the European Commission's delay of financial reforms in Brussels yesterday.  PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

It said corporate tax avoidance in Europe cost an estimated €50 billion (S$77 billion) to €70 billion a year in lost tax revenues.

The EU plan closely follows recommendations by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development that were agreed by Group of 20 leaders last year.

They would apply to all global companies with sales worth €750 million or above and with activities in the EU. The EU said this amounts to about 6,000 companies - including 1,000 Asian firms - or 90 per cent of all corporations above that size.

Under the new conditions, companies will need to disclose information such as total sales, the nature of their business activity, profit before tax, tax actually paid and accumulated earnings.

The data would be posted on a company's website.

"The proposal has been carefully calibrated to ensure that no confidential business information will be published," said the commission.

The plans also include a commitment to establish an EU-wide blacklist of tax havens.

But in a disappointment to tax campaigners, the EU plan is largely limited to activity in Europe, except if earnings come from a blacklisted tax haven.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2016, with the headline 'EU unveils plans to rein in big firms on profit reporting, tax'. Print Edition | Subscribe