European tax survey 2014: Rising to the challenge
In order to understand the impact of economic and financial trends and the potential impact of change on the tax department of today, as viewed by tax professionals across Europe, Deloitte has undertaken its second annual European Tax Survey.
The 2014 Deloitte European Tax Survey was conducted in Autumn 2014 against the backdrop of an external environment that continues to be challenging. While growth, albeit slow, has returned to a number of European countries, the euro area remains a source of weakness. The OECD, at the behest of the G20, launched an Action Plan on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) in 2013 to update international tax principles for modern trading patterns and to reflect the importance of integrity and fairness in the international tax system. In order to understand the impact of these trends and the potential impact of change on the tax department of today, as viewed by tax professionals across Europe, Deloitte has undertaken its second annual European Tax Survey. It received more than 800 responses.
The 2014 European Tax Survey revelead:
- The UK and Netherlands ranked as the most attractive European economies to operate in from a tax perspective;
- 49% called for more certainty about the future of the tax system;
- Just over half of respondents thought the base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) project is important to their tax department (51%) but 65% thought it is not important to their organisation's leadership.
Similar to the 2013 survey, respondents cited the Netherlands as the most attractive economy, followed closely by the UK. They praised the UK’s competitive tax regime and the UK’s tax authority for its transparency and ease of compliance. They commended the Dutch tax authorities for their responsiveness, ease of communication, accessibility of information and clear and simple procedures which respondents felt favours entrepreneurs and economic growth.
Factors that could increase competitiveness
Nearly half (49%) of the respondents said that simplifying the tax system would have a great impact on competitiveness, followed closely by more certainty around the future (48%), and 28% stressed the importance of a very predictable and collaborative tax authority.
James Wright, UK tax partner at Deloitte, said: “Tax professionals want stable tax legislation as they believe it will have the most positive impact on their country’s commercial competitiveness. They do not like uncertainty and they suggest simplifying the tax system would also make their own countries more competitive.”
Challenges they faced doing business in Europe
The majority of respondents (54%) thought one of the main challenges they face is a high degree of tax uncertainty in their own country. This group referred to frequent changes to legislation (39%), ambiguity, weakness and reversals in the tax authorities’ doctrine of publicly available guidance (28%), and the long duration of tax disputes (12%) as the main challenges.
Tax professionals’ response to OECD changes
When asked whether the BEPS project was important to their tax department, just over half (51%) said that it was important or very important. Over half of the UK respondents (57%) said they had started planning to deal BEPS.
Wright added: “There is major change coming soon with the G20’s objective of providing comprehensive, balanced and effective strategies for countries concerned with base erosion and profit shifting and this inevitably adds further uncertainty even if the goals of the G20 are well understood.
“The BEPS project will affect companies in most countries. For example, 80% and 65% of companies in the UK and France, respectively, thought that it is important to their tax department. However, overall our findings suggest that some respondents did not think it was important to their tax department, which is surprising. It is also surprising that just 35% thought it is important to their organisation’s leadership and 69% have not yet started planning for the likely impact. Of those who have started planning for BEPS, half have taken steps to meet the new compliance requirements for transfer pricing documentation, and 11% for hybrids. Only 47% acknowledged that BEPS will have an effect on their tax strategy and recognised that it will probably increase the cost of compliance.”
Tax in the spotlight
More than half (56%) of respondents thought there had been increased levels of discussion and scrutiny around corporate tax strategy, especially from shareholders. The majority of respondents had not been asked by external (77%) or internal stakeholders (60%) to justify their tax strategy.
The west of Europe thought that tax is more in the spotlight than the respondents in the east of Europe. In Western Europe, 81% of the UK, 80% of French respondents and 74% of the Netherlands thought that tax is under more scrutiny now. This compares to Eastern Europe and Southern Europe, where it was not on the agenda. For example 86% of Bulgarian tax directors did not think tax was more of an issue now, than last year.