EU's Divisive Plan to Tax Facebook, Amazon Returns to Spotlight

EU tax on tech giants looks set to be delayed in defeat for Emmanuel Macron

In March, the European Commission proposed that EU countries should impose a three percent levy on the digital turnover of large firms such as Google and Facebook, which are accused of sending profits to countries with low taxation, such as Ireland and Luxembourg.

France will not rest until its plan for an EU-wide digital tax gets approved before the end of the year, the country's finance minister said Tuesday.

Complicating things further, the tax risks triggering the ire of President Donald Trump amid a transatlantic trade spat, as most of the affected companies would be US-based. The most ambitious plan would entail a tax on the turnover of digital firms imposed unilaterally by the European Union before a deal is reached at global level.

"We need unbelievably rapid progress on the global level", German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said on Monday.

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The EU proposal is also meant to stop other countries going it alone with their own digital tax and creating a patchwork of schemes across the continent.

"This is a clear red line for the French government", Bruno Le Maire, France's finance minister told reporters in Brussels as he prepared to discuss the issue with his European counterparts. The United Kingdom launched a digital tax earlier this month, while Spain announced similar plans for 2019. Traditional tax rules have failed to capture these companies' activities, fueling anger from voters disgruntled after years of austerity and meager wage growth. "Of course there will be a reaction from the U.S.", he said, calling the tax "not a good idea for Europe". German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz also said the tax should not be applied until the summer of 2020, and only if no global deal was reached on the same issue. All national delegations agree that the tax would be repealed if the OECD or the Group of 20 nations reach a deal for a coordinated solution to tax tech companies, according to one of the documents circulated ahead of the meeting.

But such an agreement requires the unanimous support of all member states, and in the absence of that, France and Germany said they were new supporting a significantly less far-reaching plan.

The Council of ministers said in a statement that while "progress has been achieved on a number of issues such as definitions, tax collection, and administrative cooperation, there are still differences between member states on several issues, including the precise scope of services which would be subject to the future tax". "Better have a European approach rather than patchwork of bad national taxes".

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