Lasitha Silva’s Web’log

The EU is a high tax area – on average

Posted on: April 8, 2009

The European Union, taken as a whole, is a high-tax area. In 2006, the last year for which detailed data are available,  he overall tax ratio, i.e. the sum of taxes and social security contributions in the 27 Member States (EU-27) amounted to 39.9 % of GDP (in the weighted average; see Table 1); this value is about 12 percentage points above those recorded in the United States and Japan. The EU taxto- GDP ratio is high not only compared with these two countries but in general; amongst the major non-European OECD members, only New Zealand has a ratio that exceeds 35 per cent of GDP1. The high EU tax-to-GDP ratio is not a new phenomenon; it mostly dates back to a strong upward trend in the 1970s, and to a lesser extent also in the 1980s and early 1990s, which was closely linked to the growing share of the public sector in the economy in those years. In the later 1990s, first the Maastricht Treaty nominal convergence criteria and subsequently the Stability and Growth Pact encouraged the adoption of a series of fiscal consolidation measures. In a number of Member States, the consolidation process relied primarily on restricting or scaling back primary public expenditure, in others the focus was rather on increasing taxes (in some cases temporarily). At the end of that decade, a number of countries took advantage of buoyant tax revenues to reduce the tax burden, through cuts in the personal income tax and social contributions, but also in the corporate income tax. The overall tax burden decreased perceptibly from 2000, but generally only for a couple of years. Efforts to reduce taxes permanently gradually lost steam; reductions in tax ratios, fairly aggressive in 2001, became less significant in subsequent years and mostly stopped altogether in 2005. Cyclical factors contributed to slow the decline in tax ratios after 2002; particularly from 2004 onwards, growth in the EU reaccelerated, boosting the revenue of pro-cyclical taxes; in addition, Member States strove to reduce their deficits, which probably led them to postpone tax cuts. Overall, one may conclude that, in the last decade, the upward trend in taxation has largely been stopped, but has been reversed in few countries only.


Corporate income tax rates continue their rapid decline throughout the EU

Since the second half of the 1990s, corporate income tax (CIT) rates in Europe have been cutforcefully . This trend has continued in 2008, as shown by an 0.9 percentage point drop in the EU-27 average. The cut was even stronger in the euro area (1.2 points), whose rates nevertheless remain somewhat higher (at 26.5 %, the EA-15 average is almost three points above the average for the Union as a whole). Seven Member States countries cut the corporate tax rate in 2008, most prominently Germany (-8.9 points to 29.8 %) and Italy (-5.9 points to 31.4 %). No country increased the CIT rate.
Although the downward trend has been quite general, corporate tax rates still vary substantially within the Union . The adjusted statutory tax rate on corporate income3 varies between a minimum of 10 % (in Bulgaria and Cyprus) and a maximum of 35 % in Malta, although the gap between the maximum and the minimum has shrunk since 1995. As in the case of personal income tax, the lowest rates are typical of countries with low overall tax ratios; consequently, the new Member States tend to have low rates (with the notable exception of Malta, which is also the only Member State, together with Sweden, not having changed its CIT rate since 1995). The reverse is, however, not true: unlike in the case of the personal income tax, the two Member States with the highest tax burden, Denmark and Sweden, display corporate tax rates that are not much above the average. This is linked to the adoption by these countries of Dual Income Tax systems, which by nature tax capital income at a moderate rate.

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