France Pledges to Address Tax Law Exemptions

The European Commission has closed an investigation into the impact of French tax rule changes for maritime companies on the EU state aid rules after France pledged to address the Commission’s concerns.

Namely, France has committed to ensure that French tonnage tax payers flag at least 25% of their tonnage in the EEA.

The in-depth investigation was launched in November 2013, as the Commission was concerned that also giving favourable fiscal benefits to certain vessels sailing under non-EU flags would run counter the objectives of EU maritime transport policy.

The tax scheme, approved by the Commission in May 2013, allows shipping companies to be taxed on the basis of the tonnage of the fleet rather than the actual profits of the company.

The scheme limited the eligibility of time chartered ships not flagged in the EU.

Such ships could not constitute more than 75% of the fleet of a tonnage tax payer. This scheme was in line with the then applicable 1997 EU guidelines on state aid to maritime transport, which aimed to enhance the competitiveness of shipping companies facing competition from non-EU businesses and boost jobs in the sector.

After the adoption of the Commission’s updated guidelines on State aid to maritime transport in 2004, France removed the specific flagging rules for time-chartered vessels without informing the Commission.

The removal of the specific flagging rules therefore did not yet have any effect in practice. At the same time, the Commission also found that there was no guarantee that this would remain the case in future as no minimum EEA flagging requirements were foreseen for new entrants.

As a result, a newcomer company whose fleet was 100% composed of non-EEA time-chartered vessels would be able to benefit from the tonnage taxation.

“The French authorities have therefore committed to require from all the French tonnage taxpayers that at least 25% of their tonnage is EEA flagged. The Commission has accepted this commitment and has therefore closed its investigation,” the Commission said.

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