Sunday

25th Aug 2019

EU probes French gas firm's Luxembourg tax dealings

  • Tax rulings "contradict national taxation rules and allow GDF Suez to pay less tax than other companies", competition commissionner Vestager said. (Photo: European Parliament)

The European Commission opened on Monday (19 September) a case over tax rulings granted by Luxembourg to French gas company Engie that it says amount to illegal state aid.

Engie, which was at the time called GDF Suez, is currently owned at 33 percent by the French state.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The tax rulings the commission is investigating were first issued in 2008 and allowed two GDF Suez companies to lend money to two other GDF companies, with the four entities avoiding taxes due in normal cases.

The two borrowers could make provisions for interest payments, even while the loans were with zero interest, and file them as tax-deductible expenses.

For the lenders, the loans were converted into shares in the borrowing firms. The benefits were not taxed because in Luxembourg equity investments are exempt from taxation.

"A single company cannot have the best of two worlds for one and the same transaction," EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.

"Financial transactions can be taxed differently depending on the type of transaction, equity or debt," she pointed out.

The tax rulings allowing the schemes "contradict national taxation rules and allow GDF Suez to pay less tax than other companies", she added.

The decision to open the case comes as Vestager is starting a visit in the US, where the administration and businesses have strongly criticised the commission's sate-aid stance.

The US treasury said last month that the commission's order to Apple to pay over €13 billion to Ireland was "disappointing" and would "undermine the important spirit of economic partnership between the US and the EU”.

The timing of the new case has prompted speculation that Vestager is trying to appease the US by showing she also takes on European firms.

A commission spokesman denied the claims, saying that the commission "always apply state rules to everybody".

The GDF Suez case does not stem from the LuxLeaks revelations published in 2014 but from a review of tax rulings issued in member states that was launched in 2013.

The review was extended in December 2014 after the LuxLeaks revelations, and about 1,000 tax rulings were examined.

The GDF Suez case is the first opened after the review.

The commission did not say how much taxes it estimates GDF Suez avoided with the tax rulings, nor did it say whether it was the only company in that case in Luxembourg.

Exclusive

Brexit row delays financial products transparency review

A European financial regulatory body set up after the financial crisis is at loggerheads with the European Commission over whether to carry out a transparency review of certain financial products. The reason: Brexit.

Commission defends Mercosur trade deal

EU commissioners defended a far-reaching free trade agreement between the EU and four Latin American countries, against critics who fear it will damage European farmers' livelihoods and the global environment.

EU hesitates to back France over US tariff threat

France has passed a new tax on tech companies that will affect US global giants like Facebook. Donald Trump has threatened retaliatory tariffs over it. The EU commission says it will "coordinate closely with French" on the next steps.

News in Brief

  1. Ocean Viking to disembark in Malta after ordeal
  2. Germany joins France in world outcry on Brazil fires
  3. British people lose faith in Brexit deal
  4. Brexit hardliners want further changes to EU deal
  5. German manufacturers confirm fear of recession
  6. Belgian socialists and liberals scrap over EU post
  7. Fall in EU migration leading to UK skills shortages
  8. Switzerland makes post-Brexit flight preparations

Opinion

Why von der Leyen must put rights at core of business

Ursula von der Leyen's in-tray must include those European executives on trial for systematic workplace harassment, the break-up of European slavery rings, and allegations of European companies' abuse in palm oil, including child labour, land grabs, and deforestation.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  5. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  7. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  8. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  9. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  10. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North

Latest News

  1. Spain heading for yet another general election
  2. EU to discuss Brazil beef ban over Amazon fires
  3. 'Our house is burning,' Macron says on Amazon fires
  4. What happens when trafficking survivors get home
  5. EU states and Russia clash on truth of WW2 pact
  6. EU considers new rules on facial recognition
  7. EU to pledge Africa security funds at G7 summit
  8. Letter from the EESC on per diem article

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us