Digital taxation: State of play and way forward

19-03-2020

The digitalisation of the economy and society poses new tax policy challenges. One of the main questions is how to correctly capture value and tax businesses characterised by a reliance on intangible assets, no or insignificant physical presence in the tax jurisdictions where commercial activities are carried out (scale without mass), and a considerable user role in value creation. Current tax rules are struggling to cope with the emerging realities of these new economic models. The European Union (EU) and other international bodies have been discussing these issues for some time. In March 2018, the EU introduced a 'fair taxation of the digital economy' package. It contained proposals for an interim and long-term digital tax. The European Parliament supported both proposals, widening their scope and coverage and backing integration of digital tax into the proposed Council framework on corporate taxation. However, there was no immediate political agreement in the Council. As finding a global solution at Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) level or a coordinated EU approach was not yet feasible, some Member States started implementing or designing national digital taxes. As an indication of difficulties around this issue, the introduction of these taxes in France heightened trade tensions between the EU and the United States of America, with the latter favouring a 'voluntary' tax system – a position which may prevent a global agreement. Over the last few years, the OECD has nevertheless made progress on developing a global solution and proposed a two-pillar system: while the first pillar (unified approach) would grant new taxation rights and review the current profit allocation and business location-taxation rules, the second (GloBE) aims to mitigate risks stemming from the practices of profit-shifting to jurisdictions where they can be subjected to no, or very low, taxation. The EU is committed to supporting the OECD's work, but if no solution is found by the end of 2020, it will again make a proposal for its own digital tax.

The digitalisation of the economy and society poses new tax policy challenges. One of the main questions is how to correctly capture value and tax businesses characterised by a reliance on intangible assets, no or insignificant physical presence in the tax jurisdictions where commercial activities are carried out (scale without mass), and a considerable user role in value creation. Current tax rules are struggling to cope with the emerging realities of these new economic models. The European Union (EU) and other international bodies have been discussing these issues for some time. In March 2018, the EU introduced a 'fair taxation of the digital economy' package. It contained proposals for an interim and long-term digital tax. The European Parliament supported both proposals, widening their scope and coverage and backing integration of digital tax into the proposed Council framework on corporate taxation. However, there was no immediate political agreement in the Council. As finding a global solution at Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) level or a coordinated EU approach was not yet feasible, some Member States started implementing or designing national digital taxes. As an indication of difficulties around this issue, the introduction of these taxes in France heightened trade tensions between the EU and the United States of America, with the latter favouring a 'voluntary' tax system – a position which may prevent a global agreement. Over the last few years, the OECD has nevertheless made progress on developing a global solution and proposed a two-pillar system: while the first pillar (unified approach) would grant new taxation rights and review the current profit allocation and business location-taxation rules, the second (GloBE) aims to mitigate risks stemming from the practices of profit-shifting to jurisdictions where they can be subjected to no, or very low, taxation. The EU is committed to supporting the OECD's work, but if no solution is found by the end of 2020, it will again make a proposal for its own digital tax.