On 28 June 2023, the European Tax Adviser Federation (ETAF) organized a conference in Brussels on the tax profession’s perspective on the upcoming Directive to tackle the role of enablers that facilitate tax evasion and aggressive tax planning (Securing the Activity Framework for Enablers – SAFE).
In his welcome address, ETAF President Philippe Arraou recalled that since the last ETAF conference on SAFE exactly one year ago the European Commission’s thinking has evolved and so did ETAF’s position.
The Commission has now made up its mind between the different options proposed in its public consultation and the main components of the SAFE proposal have been publicly unveiled:
“The real question is: will the Commission deliver on its promise to only target the “rotten apples”? And how could it define aggressive tax planning without interfering with the work of law-abiding tax advisers?”, Philippe Arraou asked.
Initially planned for release in June 2023, the proposal has been indefinitely postponed, which has created a lot of uncertainties among tax stakeholders. The ETAF conference was nevertheless the opportunity for the speakers and the audience to publicly expose their expectations on this important proposal for the tax profession.
In his keynote speech, ETAF Head of office, Michael Schick, stated that to tackle the core of the problem and avoid disproportionate bureaucracy, it is necessary to target non-regulated tax professionals, operating outside any binding professional law framework, and to strictly limit the material scope to complex structures in non-EU countries.
“For countries in which there is zero regulation of the tax profession we understand that SAFE has a real potential, it will at least pose some ground rules and we clearly see the benefits here. For countries, like our members, who already have stronger rules, this can enter in contradiction with our own rules and potentially lower them”, he explained.
MEP Paul Tang, Chair of the FISC subcommittee of the European Parliament asked for some “sympathy” towards the European Commission and the delay of the proposal. “It is already a difficult job to try to define what is aggressive tax planning and what’s not, but so is trying to find a political support for it (…). It needs to be carefully introduced to have a chance”, he said.
For Manon François, Researcher at the EU Tax Observatory, SAFE would help having a more consistent framework for enablers. She also advocated for getting more information from the multinationals firms directly and enlarge the scope of the country-by-country reporting.
During the panel discussion moderated by Elodie Lamer, journalist for Tax Notes, there was a broad consensus that the SAFE proposal should target the “bad apples” and that we need a clear and practicable definition of aggressive tax planning.
Even if he admitted that you can have a “lighter touch” for countries that are already regulated, MEP Paul Tang argued for a broad regulation and registration. He also advocated for a disciplinary mechanism to make sure to get after the “enablers”.
Andrea Rabb, ETAF Board member and Vice-President of International Affairs of ETAF Hungarian member Moklasz said that, from her point of view, what the Commission wants to do with SAFE is not a genuine regulation. “Regulation is more. Regulation is about giving quality standards for the profession in each Member State and security to the Market”, she said.
She also warned that an EU register could run against the strong requirements set by countries who already regulate the tax profession and create a risk of counterproductive levelling down of qualified tax experts.
“Regulated EU tax professionals have their own national registers which is not a simple procedure but requires serious preconditions like successful exams, professional experience, continuous training, etc. We don’t think that a simple voluntary registration without any requirements attached to it should be treated the same way as it is done in EU countries with regulated professional rules”, she explained.
On the same day, in the ECON committee of the European Parliament, EU Tax Commissioner, Paolo Gentiloni, publicly recognized that without any progress on the UNSHELL proposal laying down rules to fight the misuse of shell entities and currently blocked in the Council of the EU, it is very difficult for the Commission to come up with the SAFE proposal.
For MEP Paul Tang, the link between the UNSHELL and the SAFE proposals is not obvious. However, he remained confident that the Commission will come forward with the SAFE proposal in the next half year.
Notes to editors:
Our event can be watched again online here: https://www.youtube.com/@etaf-europeantaxadviserfed6173
Our position paper on the SAFE proposal can be consulted here: https://etaf.tax/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/ETAF_position_paper_on_SAFE.pdf
For media enquiries, please contact: Marion Fontana, EU Policy Officer, [email protected], Phone: +32 2 2350 105 | Mobile: +32 471 78 90 64