As the EU talks on the single digital services tax have stalled, some major individual-member countries have moved to impose one independently in their own jurisdictions. On December 17 and 20, 2018, France and Italy announced their plans to impose their national digital services taxes. Spain and the United Kingdom already stated that they will do the same, but they have yet to announce the final proposals.
France took the lead with the imposition of a 3% digital services tax on all revenue derived from digital activities starting January 1, 2019. The tax will target only large multinational companies with large global annual revenues, commonly known as “GAFA” in France (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon). France believes that, through sophisticated tax planning, these companies have been able to escape much of the local taxation; the new tax will assure that they will start paying more to French tax authorities. The tax is expected to generate €500 million of additional revenue in 2019.
Italy also desires to impose in 2019 a 3% digital services tax that will target specifically online advertising, big data and peer-to-peer marketplaces. The Italians believe that their digital services tax will generate €600 million per year. The proposed law will be payable by all Internet companies with over €750 million in revenue and €5.5 million of “eligible” Italian earnings. Nonresident companies who have no physical presence in Italy will need to register with the Italian tax authorities in order to pay the required tax.
The Italian legislative process is slower than that of France and it is unlikely that the tax will be imposed on January 1, 2019. Usually, once the new law passes, the Italian finance ministry will need to publish it with all details within four months after the passage of the law; then, it will be another two months before the new law will become effective. Still, there is little double that this law may be imposed sometime in the second half of 2019.
While the need for revenue that drives these new national laws is understandable, there is a danger for such piecemeal approach to taxation of digital services in the European Union. As Mr. Pierre Moscovici (the EU Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs) already noted, the differences between these national tax laws may produce serious impediments to the free movement of online goods and services in the European Union.
On the other hand, the prospects for a unified European digital services tax are quite dim due to the adamant opposition to such law from many member-countries, especially Ireland and Sweden. Given this impasse, the national governments that desire to benefit from taxation of online services do not have any other effective remedy but to do it independently within their own jurisdictions.