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The Excess Profit Exemption System · Joined Cases T-131/16 and T-263/16 Belgium v Commission · Annotation by François-Guillaume de Lichtervelde journal article

Annotation on the judgment of the General Court (Seventh Chamber, Extended Composition) of 14 February 2019 in Joined Cases T‑131/16 Belgium v Commission and T-263/16 Magnetrol v Commission

François-Guillaume de Lichtervelde

European State Aid Law Quarterly, Volume 18 (2019), Issue 3, Page 382 - 390

As the first State aid case involving tax rulings to reach the General Court, the judgment regarding the Belgian ‘excess profit exemption’ regime was highly anticipated. Instead of investigating separately the tax rulings granting the exemption, the Commission had intended to frame the case at the higher level and went after an ‘aid scheme’. The Court did not follow this qualification and set aside the Commission’s Decision. While the judgment inflicted a blow to the enforcer’s approach, the Court did not take a position on the most sensitive questions raised by this case. The boundaries of EU State aid control with respect to tax rulings thus still remain unclear. However, the judgment established that Belgium enjoyed a margin of discretion in adopting the rulings that granted the excess profit exemption. This finding, which was fatal to the Commission’s scheme-based theory, may now support the Commission’s case that the rulings are ‘selective’ and could therefore amount to State aid. In that sense, the judgment may ultimately have done more harm than good to Belgium’s case against the Commission’s investigation. Keywords: Excess Profit Exemption; Tax Rulings; Aid Scheme; Individual Aid; Belgium; Discretion; Selectivity.


The Rise of an (Autonomous) Arm’s Length Principle in EU State Aid Rules? journal article

Fausta Todhe

European State Aid Law Quarterly, Volume 18 (2019), Issue 3, Page 249 - 263

In its recent State aid Decisions, the Commission claimed that an (autonomous) arm’s length principle, independent from the one originating in the OECD framework, is embedded in Article 107(1) TFEU as a tool to ensure the protection of the principle of equality. Considered a novelty, the Commission’s approach has been challenged not only by the appeals submitted from the interested parties but also from a number of practitioners and academics. Although the last words remain still with the Courts, the purpose of this article is to join the debate and bring a personal view on the matter. It therefore reviews the recent State aid Decisions on individual aid in order to determine the potential embedding of an (autonomous) arm’s length principle in European State aid law. Keywords: Fiscal State aid; Arm’s length principle; Tax rulings


Can Selectivity Result from the Application of Non-Selective Rules? journal article

The Case of Engie

Phedon Nicolaides

European State Aid Law Quarterly, Volume 18 (2019), Issue 1, Page 15 - 28

This paper identifies a significant shift in the approach for determining whether a tax measure is selective. The European Commission, in its decisions on tax rulings, has found that the selective nature of the rulings stemmed from the fact that they endorsed arrangements whose terms deviated from those that would have been agreed under normal conditions of competition. Unlike its other decisions on tax rulings, the Commission in the Engie case does not examine whether Engie benefitted from treatment that was not available to other companies. Instead, the Commission bases its finding of selectivity on the fact that Engie minimised its tax liability. This is an ‘outcome-based’ approached rather than a ‘treatment-based’ approach which requires comparison between companies in similar situations. Without a benchmark of comparison, an outcome-based approach is meaningless. In addition, the Commission breaks new ground by finding a selective advantage in favour of Engie in the non-enforcement by Luxembourg of anti-abuse rules. The Commission asserts that Luxembourg should have refused to issue the tax ruling. Keywords: Selectivity; tax rulings; anti-abuse rules.


Latest Developments on the Interpretation of the Concept of Selectivity in the Field of Corporate Taxation journal article

Lorenzo Panci

European State Aid Law Quarterly, Volume 17 (2018), Issue 3, Page 353 - 367

The notion of material selectivity is key to defining the reach of State aid control. I will argue that the ECJ progressively endorsed an increasingly extensive interpretation of the selectivity requirement (which culminated in the Gibraltar judgment), making it easier for the European Commission to demonstrate its fulfilment. One of the consequences of this evolution was that State aid control became easier to use to pursue policy objectives. This was especially true in the context of taxation, despite the lack of harmonisation in this field. However, at the outset of the Gibraltar judgment, the General Court appeared to have taken a position that preserves the policy choices made at national level and this was possible by interpreting the selectivity condition as more difficult to fulfil. On the other hand, it appears that the Commission reacted to the Gibraltar judgment by using State aid control to pursue its policy objectives, in particular to contrast harmful tax competition among MS. Will the European Court of Justice endorse the approach taken by the Commission? Keywords: Selectivity; Gibraltar; Tax Rulings; Tax Competition.



Whether or Not to Bite the Apple: Some Implications of the August 2016 Commission Decision on Irish Tax Benefits for Apple journal article

Eugene Stuart

European State Aid Law Quarterly, Volume 16 (2017), Issue 2, Page 209 - 232

Every State aid regulatory decision in the EU has political, economic and administrative dimensions in addition to the application of legal rules and principles. The Apple Decision of August 2016, imposing a record recovery order against Ireland, is no exception. In the context of the use of the EU State aid rules to promote fair tax competition, and contribute indirectly to failed tax harmonisation, this article looks in detail at the Apple Decision together with its implications in the context of EU State aid and taxation policy and some of the sensitive political repercussions arising from the Decision. State aid in the EU via tax measures continues to represent about one-third of all State aid. Accordingly, it is also topical and useful to explore the logic and motivation of the European Commission in treating tax measures as liable to give rise to State aid concerns (and as priority and major cases) in the context of the Apple Decision and the soft law measures, Commission decisions and case law which preceded it. The case is currently on appeal and, although the Irish arguments do not seem strong at first sight, on several points the position of the Apple entities and of the Irish tax authorities will need to be analysed in detail by the Court in response to the Irish arguments and there is likely to be some scope for certain Commission positions in the case to be over-turned on points of fact, if further proven in the appeal. In reviewing the Apple Decision, the EU Courts will soon have an important (or even historic) opportunity to decide whether or not to further support the legality of the Commission’s continuing expansion of its State aid remit in regard to allegedly unfair tax measures. Keywords: Tax Rulings; Unfair Tax Competition; Tax Harmonisation; Arm’s Length Principle; Record State Aid Recovery.


Tax Rulings and State Aid Qualification: Should Reality Matter? journal article

Adrien Giraud, Sylvain Petit

European State Aid Law Quarterly, Volume 16 (2017), Issue 2, Page 233 - 242

In its decisional practice developing tax ruling, the European Commission uses a theoretical reasoning that can in some instances appear somewhat disconnected from the facts of the cases. Indeed, all these cases boil down to one single determination (whether the concerned transfer prices were – or not – set at market levels) and the satisfaction of all the conditions for the existence of State aid derive directly from this (rather theoretical) question alone. Little to no account taken of important factual elements (such as for example the context of international fiscal competition) and several conclusions appear to be presumed rather than demonstrated (for example the distortion of competition). One therefore remains with the general impression that State aid law remains into a sort of exception to the rest of competition law: an area of law where reality does not (really) matter. Keywords: Tax Ruling; Selectivity; Advantage; Distortion of Competition; Counterfactual.


State Aid and Tax Rulings - the Commission’s Approach to Virtual Payments: Equal Treatment of Multinationals? journal article

Steven Verschuur, Melina Stroungi

European State Aid Law Quarterly, Volume 16 (2017), Issue 4, Page 598 - 606

In its Working Paper on State aid and tax rulings, the European Commission suggests that tax rulings allowing for tax deductions without a corresponding cash payment could be contrary to the principle of equal treatment under Article 107(1) of the TFEU. This position appears to be inconsistent with the approach that the Commission itself has followed in a number of recent decisions on fiscal State aid. In our view, the principle of equal treatment, as interpreted by the Commission, does not prohibit Member States from applying such tax deductions, but actually requires them to do so in certain circumstances. The Commission’s stance on this issue seems to confuse the arm’s length principle with certain types of anti-abuse rules, thereby opening the door to direct challenges under State aid rules against mismatches between tax systems of different countries. This could lead to a regulatory overreach without a legal basis. Keywords: Tax Rulings; Virtual Payments; Multinationals; At Arm’s Length Principle.

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