Technology giants face European 'digital tax' blow

(BBC) -- Big technology firms face paying more tax under plans announced by the European Commission.

It said companies with significant online revenues should pay a 3% tax on turnover for various online services, bringing in an estimated €5bn (£4.4bn).

The proposal would affect firms such as Facebook and Google with global annual revenues above €750m and taxable EU revenue above €50m.

The move follows criticism that tech giants pay too little tax in Europe.

EU economics affairs commissioner Pierre Moscovici said the "current legal vacuum is creating a serious shortfall in the public revenue of our member states".

He stressed it was not a move against the US or "GAFA" - the acronym for Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon.

According to the Commission, top digital firms pay an average tax rate of just 9.5% in the EU - far less than the 23.3% paid by traditional companies.

EU economic affairs commissioner Pierre Moscovici says the move is not anti-American

Its figures are disputed by the big tech firms, which have called the tax proposal "populist and flawed".

Countries including the UK and France have accused firms of routing some profits through low-tax EU member states such as Ireland and Luxembourg.

Big US tech companies have argued they are complying with national and international tax laws.

However, the Commission said it wanted to tax companies according to where their digital users are based.

This is a fundamental change to the present tax rules which focus on the profits of companies which, for tax purposes, are closely aligned to where the company is headquartered and where its products are invented and built.

For companies such as Facebook and Google that is the US and that is where, quite correctly given the present tax rules, they pay the vast bulk of their taxes.

That leaves a problem. The effective tax rates of digital businesses headquartered outside the EU is 9.5%.

The effective tax rate of traditional businesses operating in the EU is 23.2%.

Not fair, the EU says. And polls of public opinion suggest voters agree.

The tax would also only apply to certain online revenue streams - such as from online advertising in search engines or social media, online trading, or the sale of user data.

The proposals require backing from the European Parliament and the 28 EU countries, but they are divided on the issue.

EU tax reforms need the backing of all member states to become law.

Ireland has warned that the proposals may not yield more tax, while some countries believe smaller companies should also face a bill.

The business practices of big tech firms are facing growing scrutiny in Europe.

Competition regulators have fined Apple and Amazon, while Google is appealing against a record €2.4bn fine for abusing its dominance to favour its own shopping services.

EU agencies are also set to tighten rules on data privacy, while Germany has introduced big fines for social media firms who fail to take down extreme content quickly enough.

Europe’s Planned Digital Tax H…