Monday

25th Sep 2017

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.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

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.

EU takes time to ponder tech giant tax

The EU commission published a paper that outlined several options on how to increase tax income from internet companies' activities, but fell short of proposing legislation.

EU commission changes gear on trade

The EU executive seeks new deals with Australia and New Zealand, while aiming to overhaul the global investment protection system. It also wants to screen foreign investments.

Investigation

EU bank accused of muzzling watchdog

An ongoing review of the the European Investment Bank's "complaints mechanism" could make the oversight branch less independent and less effective.

News in Brief

  1. Merkel wins fourth term, exit polls say
  2. EU to hail 'aspirations' of former Soviet states
  3. UK says credit downgrade was wrong
  4. Dutch state appeals ban on taking air-polluting measures
  5. May proposes 2-year transition period after Brexit
  6. May to call on EU's 'sense of responsibility'
  7. Catalonia has 'contingency plans' for independence vote
  8. Last German polls confirm Merkel's lead

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EEEU Finance Ministers Agreed to Develop New Digital Taxation Rules
  2. Mission of China to the EUGermany Stands Ready to Deepen Cooperation With China
  3. World VisionFirst Ever Young People Consultation to Discuss the Much Needed Peace in Europe
  4. European Jewish CongressGermany First Country to Adopt Working Definition of Antisemitism
  5. EU2017EEFour Tax Initiatives to Modernise the EU's Tax System
  6. Dialogue PlatformResponsibility in Practice: Gulen & Islamic Thought
  7. Counter BalanceHuman Rights Concerns Over EIB Loan to the Trans Anatolian Pipeline Project
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina Leads the Global Clean Energy Transition
  9. CES - Silicones EuropeFrom Baking Moulds to Oven Mitts, Silicones Are a Key Ingredient in Kitchens
  10. Martens CentreFor a New Europeanism: How to Put the Motto "Unity in Diversity" Into Practice
  11. Access MBAGet Ahead With an MBA Degree. Top MBA Event in Brussels
  12. Idealist QuarterlyIdealist Quarterly Event: Building Fearless Democracies With Gerald Hensel