On the 4th of May, international tax experts and students gathered at Tilburg University (in the Netherlands) to discuss the changes, problems and future of International Tax Governance (see the event description).
The list of keynote speakers included Allison Christians (McGill University), Edwin Visser (PwC Partner), Maaike van Diepen (Tax Justice Network), Anna Gunn (Leiden University) and Carla De Pietro (Tilburg University and University of Bologna).
Cees Peters (Tilburg University) was the first speaker of the day. He gave an overview of some recent developments in the field of International Tax Governance and stressed the need for academics to study this topic more vigorously. In his view, International Tax Governance is slowly moving towards a more communicative paradigm, as he is describing it.
In the light of this trend he made clear why the organizers of the workshop (Cees Peters and Hans Gribnau – Tilburg University) decided to organize a debate on the premises of Tilburg University. It is their view that university has a vital role to play in the debate about International Tax Governance.
The first topic of the day was transparency. Edwin Visser, raised concerns about the lack of trust in the international tax system, in MNCs, and in tax advisors. Visser noted that companies should, in order to show their willingness to work towards better tax governance, develop a clear tax strategy and communicate their corporate values on taxation with their stakeholders.
In this regard, he discussed various transparency initiatives such as country-by-country reporting. Maaike van Diepen, representing the NGOs in this debate, claimed that we need more transparency in order to have a debate about necessary changes to the international tax system. She stressed the need of sharing the information with the whole public instead of sharing information with the tax authorities only.
The workshop continued with the topic of EU fiscal state aid. Anna Gunn focused on the perspective of the European Union, whereas Allison Christians considered this topic with a U.S. lens. Gunn gave an interesting overview of the responses of different EU Member States to the various initiatives of the European Commission.
Christians commented on the U.S. perception that the EU is ‘going after’ U.S. multinationals only. Both speakers were however of the opinion that the EU is certainly not going after American companies only, since there are also ‘European companies’ involved in the current investigations. In the concluding discussion round there was a debate about the possibilities of a trade war and the role of the WTO in this respect.
In the last topic of the day the focus was on the implementation of the various international initiatives. Carla De Pietro discussed the OECD BEPS Project in the light of public international law and EU law. In her view, the OECD is underestimating the lack of effectiveness which characterizes public international law – and therefore international tax law – vis-à-vis both national and EU law.
She shared her worries about the fragmentation of the notion of treaty abuse and claimed that the efforts of the OECD in the light of Action 6 may not result in the desirable coordination of this notion if EU and constitutional obstacles are not seriously taken into consideration by national, international and EU institutions.
The final discussion with the audience summarized the concerns raised during the whole day. Everybody seemed to agree that there are still many outstanding questions about International Tax Governance and that there is a strong need to continue the vivid debate about this topic. To be continued at Tilburg University!