Taxation Of Private Capital Gains 1997/98 Offends Against The Constitution
The Constitutional Court has held the taxation of private capital gains from the sale of securities in 1997 and 1998 to be null and void, because it offends against the requirement for equality of treatment. The Court emphasised that its objection was not against the provisions in the statute per se but only against the random and uncontrolled manner in which they were applied. Any assessments for 1997 and 1998 that are still open must now be adjusted to eliminate any income tax liability on capital gains, but there is no question of reopening assessments that have already become final and binding. On the other hand, defaulters who failed to declare their capital gains in those years cannot now be pursued.
The Court's reasoning turned on the "contradiction" between the statute defining the tax obligation and the rules for its enforcement. It saw these as being "designed to be ineffective". It made much of Sec. 30a of the Tax Management Act which prohibits the tax auditors of banks from randomly selecting customer transactions for checking against the tax returns filed by the individuals concerned. Such a check can be made, but only in the specific circumstances of a founded suspicion against a particular customer. This puts the tax auditors in a difficult position when faced with a bank refusing to give them the addresses they need. Since the tax offices are generally unable to do their own field audits of private individuals not required to keep accounts or records other than those necessary to document the returns that they do make, failure to declare almost always went undiscovered and therefore unpunished. The statements given in evidence before the Court seemed to indicate that tax evasion through failure to declare short-term capital gains was widespread, even to the extent - as one witness put it - that the tax was an obligation for the "stupid". The authorities were aware of this, but took no steps to rectify the situation, despite many opportunities of doing so. This deliberate "ineffectiveness" of the collection procedures was what truly offended against the constitution in contrast to mere inefficiency or error. Almost all other types of income were subject to controls or deduction of tax at source, and this also made the taxation of capital gains appear arbitrary.
The Court refused to comment on whether the same reasoning could be applied to capital gains made in later years. It pointed out that 1999 saw the introduction of a carry-forward right for unrelieved capital losses and that in 2000 the stock market slumped. Both factors may, or may not, have been seen by taxpayers as an incentive to make full returns. Shortly afterwards annual statements showing income and movements from depot banks holding customers' investments became common, and are now compulsory. Tax offices are becoming accustomed to demand sight of such statements, and this may have improved the compliance level. The Court pointed out that it did not have enough evidence at its disposal to judge whether and for how long the inconsistency between the tax obligation and the failure to enforce it continued after 1998.
Investment Grant Bill 2005 Passes Bundestag
The Bundestag has passed an Investment Grant Bill 2005 to replace the Investment Grant Act 1999 which expires at the end of 2004. The two most significant changes to the system will be to conform the SME definition (smaller and medium-sized enterprises qualify for higher grants) to EU standards and to restrict grant entitlement to new, as opposed to replacement, investments. Capital investments in Berlin and in the five eastern provinces rank for grant if they are started after promulgation of the new act and completed in 2005 or 2006. The act will not enter into force until European Commission approval has been received.
Sachsen-Anhalt Issues Islamic Bond
The province of Sachsen-Anhalt has resolved to become the first European issuer of an Islamic bond. The aim is to raise up to € 100 m on the potent Arab markets by offering investors a reasonable reward whilst enabling them to respect the Islamic prohibition on earning interest. The vehicle is to be a Dutch trust. The trust will purchase the long term usage rights to land and buildings owned by the Land - the ministry of finance and tax office buildings - for a capital sum - the € 100 m. The Land then leases them back for an annual leasing fee corresponding to the interest implicit in the lease. The trust re-finances its initial outlay with trust certificates (the Islamic bond issue) sold to the Moslem investors, who then become entitled to a share in the trust's leasing fee income, that is, in its trading profits. Five years hence, the Land will unwind the whole arrangement by buying back its usage rights for the original amount paid, enabling the trust to redeem the certificates at face value.
Finance Ministry Insists That The Income Tax Relief Cuts For 2004 Were Constitutional
The ministry of finance published on March 16 a decree dated March 12 stating bluntly that the 2004 Budget Accompanying Act was passed in accordance with the constitution. This Act affects almost all taxpayers as it cuts nearly the full range of allowances and reliefs by typically about 12% as agreed in the course of a last minute settlement of a dispute between the two chambers of Parliament on the tax changes for 2004. These cuts also include reducing the deduction for business entertaining from 80% to 70% of the otherwise acceptable amounts paid, so the effect on corporations is as widespread as it is on individuals.
This Act has been widely criticised in the professional press as having been enacted without full regard being had to the constitutional formalities of legislation. Whether or not this criticism is founded is for the courts, ultimately the Constitutional Court, to decide. The ministry takes, however, a very firm line in its decree instructing tax offices to:
- reject appeals based on claims that the 2004 Budget Accompanying Act was not enacted with due observance of constitutional formality
- refuse applications for stays of execution because there are "no serious doubts" as to the legality of the provisions
- maintain that even if there are "serious doubts", the public interest in an orderly budget (sic!) is to take precedence over the private interest of the applicant in the protection of his position pending final resolution of his claim.
The decree closes with an aggressive sounding paragraph stating that there can be no question of issuing provisional assessments or notices (to keep them open to take advantage later of a test case if decided favourably for the taxpayer) because there is as yet no case pending before the Supreme Tax Court or the Constitutional Courts. Since both Courts are, for taxpayers, courts of appeal from a lower court, and since a lower tax court cannot, in most cases, be turned to until an administrative appeal process against an actual assessment has failed, the condition given by the ministry as a requirement for keeping 2004 assessments open is unlikely to be met before 2006 or 2007. The decree therefore gives the impression that each taxpayer will have to go through with his own appeal, if he wishes to be able to take advantage of a favourable higher court decision in a test case, although if in the event appeals are filed en masse, the finance ministry will probably be forced to grant general stays of execution or suspensions of assessment, simply to keep the tax administration functioning.
Fire Insurance Tax - More Detailed Records In 2005
December 10, 2003 saw the publication of a finance ministry decree for all payers of insurance tax requiring them to keep additional records from 2005 onwards. Since there has been no change to the statute, the Insurance Tax Act, it might be possible to dispute the legal validity of this decree. Be that as it may, the finance ministries of the Länder have now followed suit with a very similar decree in respect of fire insurance tax. As with the general insurance tax, the burden rests with the insurance company or agent responsible for reporting the tax to the tax office. The new joint decree of January 30, 2004, but not published until March 24, 2004 (!), extends the records specifically required by the Fire Insurance Tax Act with the following items:
- Documents supporting the insurable risk classification of each premium received
- Clarification of the fire element in buildings and household chattels policies
- The specific grounds for not taxing premiums
- Premium refunds and waivers
- Insured period
- Date of receipt of premium - if the tax is calculated on premium receipts
- Booking date
- Voucher number - manual bookings
- Booking keys and codes.
- Premiums received must be segregated by tax rate. The same applies to the ledger accounts for premiums receivable and payable.
This list is identical to that applying to insurers of other risks, except that it does not include references to policies issued jointly by more than one insurer.
Reverse Charge VAT In The Building Trade - Changeover Rules Until June 30 Announced
The 2004 Budget Accompanying Act included a provision designed to strengthen the control over VAT in the building trade. Henceforth, VAT on builders' work for other builders is to be levied by reverse charge. The same applies to all sales of real estate where the parties opt for VAT. The change takes effect on the first day of the quarter next following the official publication of the approval of the EU Council of Ministers. The ministry of finance has just announced that this approval has not yet been received but is still expected this March. If the approval comes as expected, the new rules will enter into force for all transactions on or after April 1. However the ministry has announced its intention of issuing a changeover decree to allow those affected by the change to continue to follow the old system up to June 30. Both sides must take the same option, and the concession is also conditional on correct taxation by the supplier. Since the concession is granted in view of the short time still remaining between now and April 1, it will not be needed if the EU does not grant and publish its approval until April. In that case, the new rule would not take effect anyway until July 1.
Finance Ministry Updates The Rules On Insurance Company Investments
The finance ministry has released its draft of an updating order to the Investment Order for Insurance Companies. This order restricts the securities and other paper in which they may invest their assets needed to fund the insurance reserves and liabilities. The update is mostly technical, sychronising the rules with other changes to statutes and EU directives from the recent past. The changes require the approval of the Bundesrat.
Capital Gains On Sales Of Property - Finance Ministry Acknowledges Constitutional Doubt
From 1999 onwards capital gains realised from the sale of real estate held as private property (i.e. other than as part of a business) are chargeable to income tax if the property had been held for up to ten years on the date of sale. Gains on sales of property held for longer are exempt. Sales made before 1999 fell under a previous statute with only two years as the minimum holding period to avoid taxation. A taxpayer has claimed an infringement of the constitutional prohibition of retroactive taxation in a case involving his sale of a property in 1999 after he had owned it for some nine years, i.e. well after the expiry of the two year period of previous law. The Supreme Tax Court has referred the question to the Constitutional Court but has made clear that it shares the doubts of the taxpayer. The ministry of finance has instructed tax offices to follow this decision in similar cases. This presumably means that tax offices will put all appeals on hold and suspend collection of the tax at issue until the Constitutional Court has handed down its decision.
SUPREME TAX COURT CASES
Parent May Write Down Subordinated Loan To A Subsidiary
The case before the Supreme Tax Court concerned a loan made by a parent to its subsidiary. The subsidiary suffered losses, which forced the parent to subordinate the loan and to suspend the interest charges and repayment obligations until the subsidiary had recovered financially. Had the loan not been subordinated, the subsidiary would have been insolvent and obliged to file for receivership. The parent owned the premises and other fixed assets of the subsidiary without having any other particular function, and this gave the business the status of being "divided" between two entities. This concept of German tax law means that business valuations have to take both units into account, at least to the extent of reflecting the "business importance" of the one for the other.
On subordination, the parent wrote the debt off because it saw the market value to have fallen to nil. Repayment was no longer legally or practically possible until the subsidiary had returned to permanent profitability, and, in the meantime, no interest was being earned. There was no indication as to when recovery might be expected. The tax office and lower tax court denied the deduction because the act of subordinating the loan meant that it should have been re-qualified by the parent as part of the cost of the investment in the subsidiary. The cost in investment could not, however, have been written down with tax effect in these circumstances.
The Court now held that despite the subordination, and despite the "division" of the same business between debtor and creditor, the loan had not lost its original character. It based this view on the subordination agreement itself which clearly defined the conditions for later repayment. It also took into account the lack of any conflicting evidence that might suggest the real intentions of the ultimate owners to have been something else. The fact that debtor and creditor were two parts of, effectively, the same business did not invalidate the loan write-down. Neither did the parent/subsidiary relationship and there was no requirement for each side to take an equal and opposite position in its own accounts. However the division of the business did mean that the value at which the loan could still be carried as an asset depended on the overall position of the business, i.e. on the expected maintainable future earnings of both halves taken together. Because the subordinated loan was a company law substitute for capital, its market value should be determined on principles appropriate for investments. Thus, it was up to the taxpayer to show that a willing buyer would have paid less than the owners' original cost of investment in the parent in order to acquire the complete business. If this demonstration succeeded, there would be no bar to attributing a portion of the shortfall to the loan in justification of a corresponding write-down in the parent's books.
Tax Auditor Refused Access To Control Account Of Bank Customer Payments
The bank secrecy provision of the Tax Management Act precludes random searches by the tax auditors of a bank's customer accounts and records, particularly as a means of checking on the customers rather than on the bank. Some years ago the Cologne tax auditors had the idea of circumventing this prohibition by requesting transcripts and analyses of the payment control accounts. Their thinking was that a control account, being an internal account of the bank, did not enjoy the secrecy protection accorded to the personal accounts of customers.
The case before the Court was brought by a bank resisting a tax auditor demand for details of all cash payments in and out and of all transfers to and from accounts of the bank held with institutes abroad as well as the movements on the accounts held by the bank for its foreign subsidiaries. The tax auditor had made no real effort to conceal that her real aim was to gather details of transactions by the bank's customers with Luxembourg with subsequent notification of their tax offices in mind. The tax office did state during an earlier hearing that the information was needed to check whether the bank had complied with its obligations to identify its customers and to name their accounts correctly, but the Court clearly did not believe that assertion as being anything other than an attempt to disguise a manoeuvre to obtain material for use solely against the bank's customers. That objective was not, however, covered by a tax audit order against the bank. Whilst information legitimately obtained during a tax audit could be used against other parties, it had to be legitimately obtained in furtherance of a legitimate audit objective relevant to the bank itself. In the case at hand, there was no indication of any such objective in general terms, and there could not have been any specific suspicions from the auditor's work to date, since the request was made at the start of the audit and before the field work proper had commenced.
No Subject To Tax Clause In The Canadian Double Tax Treaty
The case before the Court concerned a Canadian national resident in Germany and employed by the Canadian embassy as a local hire. She claimed treaty exemption for her salary on the grounds of a (still current) treaty provision that salaries paid by public funds to residents of the other state are not taxable there if paid to nationals of the state of payment. Canada, on the other hand, had exempted her from Canadian tax, presumably because she did not have the status of a diplomat or civil servant. The tax office claimed German tax on the salary, saying that the Supreme Tax Court had previously held the treaty provision that income received by a resident of one state should rank as being from a source in the other state if it had been taxed there in accordance with the treaty was in effect a "subject to tax" clause.
The Court sided with the taxpayer, saying that it no longer held to its previous standpoint. Neither the wording nor the context of the treaty provision cited allowed the converse conclusion to be drawn that if income was not taxed in the state of source, it should be seen as arising in the state of receipt. The provision in the protocol to the treaty ruling that double taxation should be relieved by credit rather than exemption where there was a conflict of qualification, also could not be applied here. In the present case there was no conflict as to the source, nature or classification of the income; Canada's choice not to tax the income of one of her citizens did not give Germany the right to levy her own tax instead.
The 1981 German/Canadian treaty is no longer in force. It has been replaced by the treaty of 2001 with effect from the beginning of that year. The 2001 treaty no longer contains the misconstrued clause deeming income to have been sourced from the state where it was taxed, although it does still have the same protocol resolution of conflicts of qualification. The present Supreme Tax Court ruling would therefore seem to have kept its relevance.
VAT On Invoice Issued After Tax Year Became Statute Barred Not Correct
The case before the Supreme Tax Court arose from a VAT-able sale of business assets. At the time, no VAT was charged or accounted for and no invoice was issued. The matter came to light some seven years later during a tax audit, and this prompted to seller to hurriedly issue an invoice showing the VAT, even though his VAT due for the year in question was now statute-barred. The tax office took the view that the seller no longer owed the VAT on the transaction, but did owe it for having shown it on an invoice without the entitlement to do so. In consequence, though this was not mentioned in the published case, the buyer would not have been entitled to recover the VAT as input tax. The Court sided with the tax office.
The Court did not record the pre-trial attempts to rectify the situation. One therefore has to assume a lack of success. This case thus appears as yet another illustration of the VAT pitfalls lying in wait for the unwary, no matter how well intentioned those concerned might be.
Liquidator Liable For The VAT In Ceded Debt
In the case before the Court, the liquidator of an insolvent company had sold a mortgaged property with VAT in the course of winding up the business. As soon as the sale was made, he ceded the debt due from the buyer to the bank in order to obtain their release of the mortgage. This enabled him to sell the property free of all charges as requested by the buyer. The VAT on the sale was deducted by the buyer as input tax, even though the insolvent seller was unable to pay the output tax to the tax office.
The Court held that a liquidator was not under any duty to refrain from conducting otherwise legitimate VAT-able transactions, merely because he was unlikely to be able to pay the VAT. This also applied to the exercise of the option to subject the sale of a property to VAT. However the liquidator was at fault in that he had ceded the full amount of the sale proceeds - including the VAT - to the bank, without making any arrangements for payment of the VAT amount into the liquidation assets. He had therefore favoured the bank with the VAT to the detriment of the other creditors including the tax office. However, his liability to the tax office for the breach of duty was only the amount that the tax office had lost through the breach. This could be measured by the dividend paid to the other unsecured creditors of equal rank on debts arising after the liquidation had commenced.
Investment Incentives - Supreme Tax Court Rules That Pre-Payments Qualify Without Restriction
The case concerned a commercial building in the "five new Bundesländer". The purchaser agreed with the contractor that the latter should acquire the site from the local authority and then build to an agreed specification. On completion two and a half years later, the building and the site would pass to the purchaser. In the meantime, the purchaser paid over the full purchase price as an advance payment against the security of a bank guarantee of the performance of the contractor. The purchaser claimed an investment incentive - advance depreciation under a now obsolete statute - on the full advance payment, but the tax office only granted the claim in respect of the amount reflecting the actual construction in the year of the claim and in the following year. The tax office's argument was that paying the full price in advance was commercially unusual, unjustified in the present circumstances and abusive in that its sole purpose was to maximise the benefit of the incentive. This argument was supported by a decree of the ministry of finance.
The Court rejected the tax office' argument. There was nothing in the statute governing the incentive limiting the amount to which advance payments could qualify and there was also no provision suggesting that they should only cover this year's and next year's construction work. The payment in advance of the full price of a turn-key project might be unusual, although if made against proper security - here the performance guarantee of the bank - it does not offend against the "Estate Agents and Builders Order". It is therefore legally possible and not automatically to be seen as abusive without further ado. Since the tax office had advanced no further arguments in support of its contention of abuse, the Court could only rule in favour of the taxpayer.
The same principles apply to investment grants under current legislation.
Dealing In Securities Only A Business If Done On A Business Basis
The case was brought by a private individual with regular dealings on the money markets. He had installed a limited amount of equipment for this (television, computer with access to online market information etc.) and was now claiming that his losses had been incurred by way of trade, rather than through his private asset management. The tax office took the opposing view, with which the Court agreed.
Clearly, the Court arrived at its findings, at least in part, as a result of the taxpayer's inconclusive statements, ambiguities and unsupported assertions. However, it took the opportunity to set forth a few rules of thumb to distinguish dealing by way of trade from transactions in the course of private asset management:
- If the taxpayer claims to be a trader in securities, his main activity will be in transacting in his own name but for the account of others. For this, he will need a permit under the Banking Act from the Financial Services Supervision Authority. Since such permits are only issued after exhaustive enquiries designed not least to establish that a proper control environment based on a division of duties exists, it will usually be clear that a permit holder operates by way of trade.
- If the taxpayer deals only on his own account, he will not need a permit. He will be a trader ("finance business") if his manner of operating is typical for the trade, but will be seen to be acting privately where this is not the case.
Typical for the trade implies
1. dealing with market players direct as opposed to through one or more (in this case six) custodial banks
2. the activity must be his main business activity as opposed to being from facilities installed in his lawyer's chambers or accountant's offices
3. there must be at least a modicum of commercial organisation supporting the business.
Foreign Income Of Natural Persons Reduced By Expenses
The case was brought by an employee who had worked in both Germany and Luxembourg during the tax year. The Luxembourg wages were taxed there, but were to be taken into account in Germany when fixing the rate at which to charge the German wages to German tax. The tax office claimed - in line with a decree of the Koblenz tax directorate - that the expenses of earning the Luxembourg income should be reduced by the amount by which the employee allowance of DM 2,000 (now € 920) exceeded the expenses of earning the German income. The taxpayer maintained that the two halves of the calculation should be taken separately - that being the letter of the law - so that the domestic income should be reduced by the higher of DM 2,000 or the actual costs of earning it, and that the foreign income should be reduced by the actual costs of earning it with no regard being paid to any form of domestic shortfall.
The Court sided with the taxpayer and held that the Koblenz decree of January 21, 2003 on which the tax office had based its case was not to be followed. It accepted the counter-argument of the tax office that the result would be to favour foreign earnings over those of domestic source, but stated that this was an effect that had been foreseen and - in the interests of simplicity - accepted at the time of the legislation.
Imputation Tax Systems - ECJ Advocate General Demands Credit Of Foreign Corporation Tax
Up to 2000, corporation tax in Germany was levied under a so-called "imputation" system, that is the dividend received by the domestic shareholder was grossed up by the corporation tax paid by the company before being charged to income tax - as part of the total taxable income - at the shareholder's own rate. The gross up amount reflecting the corporation tax was then credited to the shareholder, as though he had made a payment on account of income tax. If a company made a full distribution to resident natural person shareholders, the tax accruing to the government was thus the same as it would have been had the shareholders earned the same income directly, through their own businesses. At least, that was the theory.
In practice, the system did not work without discrimination once foreign parties became involved. Ultimately, this followed from a general willingness to recognise by credit or exemption foreign tax that had been paid, but not that which would be paid. There was also an extreme reluctance to repay (as opposed to credit) tax in Germany that had been encashed by a foreign exchequer. Generally therefore (there were a few exceptions in certain tax treaties) a foreign shareholder in a German company received no credit from Germany for the corporation tax "imputed" into his dividend and a German shareholder in a foreign company received no credit for the corporation tax paid abroad. The system was therefore insular, if not to say isolationist, which was one of the reasons for replacing it in 2001 with a system of charging one-half of all dividend income to income tax in the hands of a domestic shareholder without regard to the country of source.
A case has now come before the European Court of Justice on the essentially similar Finnish imputation system of 2001. A Finnish shareholder in a Swedish company was obliged to tax his dividend in Finland without regard to the corporation tax previously paid in Sweden. Had he received the same dividend from a Finnish company, his income would have been grossed up with the corporation tax against the grant of a corresponding credit against the income tax finally due. Since, in this case, the two rates were the same, no further income tax would have been payable. The taxpayer, the Finnish shareholder, saw this as discrimination hindering the free movement of capital and appealed to have the Finnish provision set aside. His position was supported by the European Commission who also made the point that the discrimination worked both ways; if a Finn was discouraged from investing in Sweden, a Swedish company was hampered in its search for capital in Finland. As against this, the French and British governments joined their Finnish colleagues in insisting on the need to preserve the "coherence" of the tax system.
The advocate general assigned to the case has just published her formal opinion to the Court. She sides with the taxpayer and, in effect, rejects the Finnish, French and British governmental arguments. She accepts that the Finnish imputation system leads to a genuine "coherence" in the system, but rejects systematic coherence as a valid justification for a fundamental discrimination of this nature and import. The blanket refusal to give any sort of credit for the underlying Swedish tax goes beyond preservation of coherence and fails the test of being suitable and necessary to achieve a valid goal without being disproportionately burdensome.
The ECJ almost always follows the main thrust of the opinion of the advocate general. German income tax payers with foreign dividend income may therefore feel it worthwhile keeping 2000 and earlier assessments open pending final resolution of the case, if they are still able to do so. In certain circumstances the case may even be applicable to dividends received from other EU countries in later years.
"Exit" Taxation On Emigrants Rejected By ECJ
The ECJ has held French taxation of the unrealised capital gain from the appreciation in value of a significant investment (over 25%) held by a resident on his move to Belgium to be contrary to the principle of freedom of establishment for individuals. The Court arrived at this ruling despite French government pleas that the provision was necessary to combat abuse (a resident could move abroad, sell his investment and then move back in the next tax year), and despite the alleviations generally available - postponement of the tax for up to five years against a financial guarantee, reduction of postponed tax when finally due, if the assumed appreciation is not realised, waiver of the postponed tax altogether if the shares are held for at least five years after emigration.
The ruling also applies by implication to the corresponding German provision - Sec. 6 of the Foreign Tax Relations Act. The wording of the German statute is similar to that of the French, although the German definition of a "significant" investment is now "1% or more" rather than "over 25%". Also, the German alleviation is harsher in that the postponement is only allowed (for up to five years) if collecting the tax immediately would be a serious hardship for the taxpayer, despite the taxpayer's still having to accept the burden of providing an acceptable guarantee. Perhaps of even greater importance, the German tax is only forgiven if the taxpayer leaves Germany for professional reasons and returns within five years without having sold the shares. This five year period can be extended to ten, but only if the continued residence abroad continues to be for professional reasons with the intention of ultimate return. There is no provision in Germany for retrospective reduction of the tax due - even if payment has been postponed - if the initial estimate of the appreciation in value proves on the eventual sale of the shares to have been unduly optimistic.
The German, Danish and Dutch governments all submitted arguments to the Court in support of the French government's position. The European Commission also submitted its observations, but in support of the taxpayer. Interestingly, the Portuguese government also took up the struggle on behalf of the taxpayer.
The German ministry of finance has yet to comment in public on its conclusions from this case.
VAT Exemption For International Airlines - ECJ Advocate General Pleads Against Generosity
A small Danish airline of some 10 machines was operating a feeder service to and from provincial airports for SAS and Lufthansa. It regularly flew domestic flights within Denmark as well as across Denmark's borders. Neither the domestic nor the international operations could be said to predominate - more passengers flew domestically, but the number of international passenger/miles flown was higher - and each aircraft was free for use in either sector. The airline brought its case to contest the refusal of the tax office to either accept that inputs for all its flights were free of VAT under the "international airlines" clause, or to formally confirm that its international traffic predominated.
The Danish court stayed proceedings pending a preliminary ruling from the ECJ on the precise interpretation of the relevant provisions of the Sixth Directive. The formal opinion of the advocate general on the case proposes that the court hold that member states are not obliged to exempt international operations by aircraft that are also flown on domestic flights, even if the airline's principal activity is commercial international air traffic.
European Commission Proposes New Directive On Statutory Auditors And Their Audits
The European Commission has published the draft of a proposed new directive of the European Parliament and Council on the "statutory audit of annual accounts and consolidated accounts .....". This directive is to be adopted by both issuing bodies under the so-called co-decision procedure. Member states are then to transpose it into national law by January 1, 2006.
The proposed directive aims at tightening and unifying the standards to be expected of statutory auditors throughout the EU. Existing rules are also to be brought up to date, both in reflection of changes in company law and to cater to increasing public awareness of risk. Companies will also have to follow new rules, for example the requirement to set up audit committees with outside directors to oversee the audit process and to propose the appointment, or reappointment, of auditors to the shareholders. Other items covered deal with the establishment of a uniform set of standards of competence, conduct and behaviour, the irrevocable responsibility of the group auditor for the group accounts (it will be up to him to review and document the work of other auditors on the subsidiaries), and quality reviews of audit firms as well as their overall professional regulation and supervision. In the same vein, it will become easier for professional firms to practice in other EC states - this is seen by the Commission as a way of opening up the market, as well as increasing the efficiency of the audits of EU-wide groups.
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