On December 11, 2008 the European Court of Justice ("ECJ") issued its decision in case n. C-285/07 dealing with the tax treatment of a cross-border EU transfer of shares under German law.

The Court held that the requirement imposed under German law, according to which the shareholders of the transferred corporation ("target") are not taxed on the gain from the exchange of their shares in the target for the shares of the acquiring corporation, at the condition that the acquiring corporation takes a tax basis in the shares of the target equal to the transferring shareholder’s tax basis in those shares prior to the transfer (carryover basis), violates the EU directive n. 90/434/CEE of July 23, 1990 (the "Mergers Directive") and EU law. 

The facts of the case concern a German public company which transferred a majority shareholding in a German private company to a French public company solely in exchange for stock of the French company. The German transferor took a tax basis in the stock of the French acquiring company received in the transaction, equal to the tax basis it had in the shares of the German transferred company (substituted basis). The French acquiring company carried the shares of the German acquired company at their fair market value at the time of the transaction. 

The EU mergers directive prescribes that, in order to qualify for tax free treatment and defer the tax on the gain from the exchange of stock in the target for stock of the acquiring company, the shareholders of the target company must take a substituted basis in the stock of the acquiring company received in the exchange. The directive is silent as to the tax basis at which the acquiring company should carry the stock of the acquired company received in the transaction. 

German law prescribed that the acquiring company took a carry over basis in the shares of the target (so called "double carry over basis requirement"). The position of the German government on the issue was that the EU directive is silent and the matter falls within the authority of the Member States.

The Court rejected the argument and held that the double carry over basis requirement imposed by German law violates the EU mergers directive and EU law in that it result in an undue restriction of a cross-border exchange of shares between to EU companies.

Continue Reading ECJ Ruled That Restriction to Tax-Free Treatment of Cross-Border Transfer of Shares is Illegal

On November 27, 2008 the European Court of Justice ("ECJ") issued its judgment in Ministry of Finance v. Société Papillon (C-418/07). The questions referred to the Court was whether the French national tax laws, which do not allow a French parent company to form a French consolidated tax group with its French subsidiaries (and reduce its tax liability by offsetting its profits with the losses of other members of the group and disregarding intra-group transactions), when the French subsidiaries are owned indirectly through an EU holding company (in the case, a Dutch BV) not subject to tax in France, violates  Article 43 of the EC Treaty.  

The Court ruled that such restriction is discriminatory and constitutes a violation of the freedom of establishment, because a French parent company that exercises its freedom of establishment by incorporating a holding company in another EU Member State through which it owns stock in its French subsidiaries is subject to a less favorable tax treatment in France than a French parent company that owns stock in its French subsidiaries directly or through other French intermediate holding companies. Indeed, the latter is able to offset its profits with the losses of the French subsidiaries while the former is not.

Contrary to the Advocate General’s opinion, the Court refused to apply the coherence of tax system  justification to sustain the restriction, on the ground that the restriction goes beyond what is strictly necessary for that purposes and fails the proportionality test.

Société Papillon provides legal support to taxpayers who intend to challenge national tax laws that restrict access to consolidated tax regimes in EU cross border situations.

Italy permits consolidation of foreign subsidiaries, but sets more restrictive requirements that those that apply to consolidation of domestic subsidiaries. The ECJ ruling in Société Papillon puts in doubt the validity of those restrictions under EU Law.

Continue Reading ECJ Ruled That Restrictions to Tax Consolidation Violate EC Treaty