Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Exit taxes and human mobility

An interesting article in Tax Analysts [gated] talks about exit taxes (taxes imposed on assets when a person or entity migrates to another nation) as an impediment to human mobility. I'd say yes, exit taxes do impede mobility, and whether and when they are justified is debatable and under-studied. But there's no universally recognized human right to mobility across national borders, as we well know. (There should be, of course, but that's a discussion for another day).

Instead, every country has high barriers to entry, some more onerous than others, and many have high barriers to exit, some more onerous than others. The US is high on both sides. Many people want to come in and are denied the chance; many others want to leave and can't escape the clutches. It's an odd world.

In any event, the Dutch exit tax has run into trouble becuase Europe has created a right to mobility within the EU zone, via the "freedom of establishment," under article 49 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). The ECJ deemed the Dutch exit tax a violation of that freedom in Commission v. Netherlands (C-301/11), saying that while an exit tax may be justified to ensure a balanced allocation of taxing rights between member states, the Dutch obligation to immediately pay the exit tax was "disproportional." Tax Analysts explains:
Under Dutch tax law, when a taxpayer operating a business moves its place of management to another country, including another EU or European Economic Area member state, the taxpayer becomes subject to a tax assessment for the (deemed) capital gain upon exit. The tax is imposed on the unrealized profits (for example, goodwill, hidden reserves, and tax reserves) attributable to that business. 
The exit tax rules apply both to legal entities and to individuals that relocate their businesses' place of effective management from the Netherlands to another country. 
...As could be expected, in its January 31 decision, the ECJ referred to its previous decision in National Grid Indus. That case concerned Dutch exit tax imposed on a company that relocated its place of effective management from the Netherlands to the United Kingdom. The ECJ approved of the concept of exit taxes because of the need to ensure a balanced allocation of taxing rights between member states. However, a "balanced allocation measure" of this type must satisfy the proportionality test, and the ECJ found the immediate payment obligation disproportional. Because the cross-border relocation exposed the taxpayer to a cash flow disadvantage that would not have existed if the relocation had been domestic, the ECJ deemed the immediate taxation of the unrealized (foreign exchange) gains under some circumstances to be in violation of the TFEU principle of freedom of establishment. 
...This judgment comes as no surprise, as both the state secretary of finance (through the above policy statement) and the lower house of the Dutch parliament (through a draft bill) had already recognized this restriction in domestic law. On December 4, 2012, the lower house approved a bill of law concerning the deferral of exit tax. ... After the bill of law is approved by the upper house (which is expected in early 2013), the new rules will take effect retroactively from November 29, 2011 (the date of the ECJ decision in National Grid Indus). 
The Dutch parliament has drafted a bill to allow for deferral on a retroactive basis and the authors conclude that hopefully, a lesson has been learned. For those outside the EU zone, of course, there is no great comfort to be had but this is another interesting development on the connection between the state and the individual in a world featuring ever-increasing mobility.

1 comment:

  1. When it comes to taxes on capital gains, I have come to not be in their favor. I think that it is morally wrong to tax income that is derieved from investing after tax income. I also do not support any kind of income or payroll tax because we should not be disincentiving the employment of labor and intellect while granting generous beneficial tax treatment to technological investments.

    None of which I see as being a particular problem for business because if the corporate income tax is scrapped then there is no need to provide special tax inducements to certain corporate economic behaviour.

    The forms of taxation that I am now in favor of are: national transaction taxes or VAT's and cost recovery fees for the provision of all government services.