Brussels, 2 May 2013
State aid: Commission invites the Netherlands to end selective tax exemption for public companies
The European Commission has formally proposed to the Netherlands to abolish the exemption from corporate tax granted to Dutch public undertakings. The Commission considers that public companies that carry out economic activities in competition with private companies should likewise be subject to corporate tax – just as private companies are. Exempting certain companies merely because they are publicly owned gives them a competitive advantage which cannot be justified under EU state aid rules.
Commission Vice President in charge of competition policy Joaquín Almunia said: "To deliver all its benefits our Single Market requires fair competition. There must be equality of arms for all market players and I am confident that the Netherlands will adapt their tax laws in that respect."
Under the Dutch Corporate Tax Law, economic activities by public bodies – either as part of the public administration or in the form of publicly owned companies – are, in principle, exempted from corporate tax. It is true that there are a number of exceptions from this exemption: certain economic activities (like farming or mining) and certain publicly owned companies (like Schiphol airport in Amsterdam or the National Lottery) are subject to corporate tax. Nevertheless, there are many economic activities by public bodies – including all services – and many publicly owned companies that remain exempted. Such companies include the port of Rotterdam, Holland Casino, Maastricht's airport, several development agencies, Bank of Industry LIOF or Twinning Holding. These companies compete directly with private players in the Netherlands and in the EU Single Market who do not benefit from the same treatment.
In July 2008, following a number of complaints, the Commission informed the Dutch authorities of its preliminary view that the measure distorted competition in the internal market, in breach of Article 107(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU). The Commission's investigation found that the different tax treatment of publicly and privately owned companies pursuing an economic activity gives publicly owned enterprises a selective advantage.
There are different ways to remedy this:
The Netherlands now have to inform the Commission within one month whether it can agree to the proposed amendments. Failing an agreement, the Commission may open a formal state aid investigation.
Dutch public companies benefit from an exemption from corporate tax since 1956, before the Netherlands accession to the EU. The measure is therefore considered as existing aid (i.e. as an aid measure which was already in place before the Treaty of Rome came into force) and its assessment is subject to a specific cooperation procedure between the Netherlands and the Commission. When the Commission finds existing aid to be in breach of EU state aid rules, it does not ask for the Member State to recover the aid granted but rather asks it to put an end to the measure.
More information on today's decision will be made available under the case number SA.25338 in the State Aid Register on the DG Competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. New publications of state aid decisions on the internet and in the Official Journal are listed in the State Aid Weekly e-News.