In its latest Economic Survey of Switzerland, the OECD called for a rebalancing of the country’s tax mix, recommending shifting that mix towards more growth-friendly sources in order to help prepare the system for the impact of an anticipated wave of aging Swiss citizens.
The OECD observed that Switzerland “relies more on direct taxation and social security contributions than most other OECD countries, at two-thirds of revenues.”
It went on to suggest that government plans, to raise the VAT rate by 0.7 percentage points and reduce disincentives to work for second-earners in families, are steps in the right direction.
The OECD recommended that VAT exemptions and reduced rates should be “wound back” to finance lower personal income taxes, particularly on lower income earners. It added that the cantons could make more use of the recurrent taxation of immovable property and that there is … Read More »
The Swiss Government has invested a lot of energy and political capital into its efforts to make the Swiss corporate tax regime more internationally acceptable at the same time as appealing. But unlike the vast majority of other countries – perhaps unlike all other countries – on this matter it is answerable not only to parliament, but to the people.
Given recent events, referendums tend to mean one thing for governments, and that’s trouble. The less said about Brexit the better. But Switzerland has had a rather unhappy experience with referendums in the not-so-distant past too. The Government’s previous corporate tax reform legislation, CTR III, was shot down at the last hurdle in a referendum, and the recent news that the reforms proposed as a replacement to CTR III will also be subjected to a public vote couldn’t have filled the Government with … Read More »
Can anything good really come from referendums? It’s the purest form of democracy, but recent history suggests such plebiscites can be more of a hindrance than a help. Enough said about the UK already. But it’s worth remembering how the Irish didn’t vote the way they were supposed to on the Lisbon Treaty back in 2007. Rather embarrassingly for all concerned, Ireland had to go back to the polls until it put enough crosses in the right box.
The Swiss of course love a referendum. It’s ingrained into their unique system of direct democracy. But where taxation is concerned, this system is causing the government a bit of grief. Switzerland is considered a pariah state by some of the world’s anti-avoidance and transparency campaigners. As such, it needs quite urgently to change its corporate tax regime. This is not only to … Read More »
A few years ago, the Swiss Government put many of its eggs into a corporate tax reform basket called Corporate Tax Reform III (incidentally, does anyone remember Corporate Tax Reform I or II? Is this a rare case of a sequel being more memorable than the original?). These are intended to remove a series of “harmful” tax regimes and generally bring Switzerland’s tax regime into line with international tax standards, while also ensuring the country remains competitive on tax. However, the proposals were somewhat cruelly struck down at the very last legislative hurdle as the people voted against them in a referendum.
Fearing the wrath of the European Union and yet another reputational battering, the Swiss Government had little choice but to almost immediately pick itself up, dust itself down, and start writing the script for CTR IV, which eventually became … Read More »
In an age of increasing voter apathy, of general disenchantment with mealy-mouthed style-over-substance politicians desperately trying to stay on-message, it was refreshing to see another example of Switzerland’s “direct democracy” in action when a proposal to replace VAT with an environmental levy was rejected by the people. But can the people be given too much say on issues ranging from the mundane to the fundamental? I suppose it could be argued that democracy Swiss-style is potentially a hindrance to the political process. With Swiss voters able to demand a say at every level, from the federal right down to the communes, of which there are almost 3,000, it sounds like a recipe for legislative paralysis, a system in which proposed laws are endlessly debated and amended and never approved – isn’t this what we elect politicians for in the first … Read More »
It’s certainly debatable. In Switzerland, still the epicenter of the private banking world, confidentiality laws remain on the statute books. But this fundamental pillar of the Swiss legal system is undoubtedly being weakened as Berne acquiesces to the transparency demands of foreign nations and plurilateral organizations, the latest of which was the joint declaration by Switzerland and Australia on the implementation of automatic information exchange in tax matters. Not that Switzerland can really be condemned for giving ground. It has been surrounded by the massed ranks of the world’s tax inspectors for a number of years, and generally it hasn’t given in without putting up a good fight. These days the phrase “banking secrecy” is used in a pejorative way, alongside other uncomplimentary descriptors of wealth management and offshore finance, like “tax haven,”, and many people would probably denounce me … Read More »
So, in the great stand-off between Ireland and the OECD, Dublin has been the one to blink first, with the Irish Government having announced in the 2015 Budget new corporate residency rules that will put paid to the infamous “Double Irish” international tax planning technique so beloved of American technology and pharmaceutical firms. This is not really surprising, given the amount of pressure Ireland has been under from the international community with regard to its corporate tax regime. What was more unexpected was the speed with which Ireland has acted, especially since it has fought tooth and nail against the likes of the EU and the OECD for years to ensure that Irish tax laws are decided in Ireland. But ultimately, perhaps the Double Irish just wasn’t worth the hassle anymore. Physical investment on the other hand, is. Ireland is … Read More »
Switzerland is probably fairly happy that international attention this week was being devoted to a French bank, for a change, and newly-announced figures for the money the country generated from applying the EU’s Savings Tax Directive may also have created a small frisson of satisfaction among the country’s financial leaders. For others, who don’t understand why, at first blush USD570m doesn’t seem to be a derisory amount of money to have extracted through a tax of 30 percent on interest payments, even if it was down 20 percent on last year, but hold hard: while there are no robust figures for total Swiss assets under management, a semi-official figure published last year suggests that they amount to about USD6 trillion, representing more than a quarter of global AUM. USD570m is 30 percent of USD1.9bn, which is an astronomically small proportion … Read More »
As usual during this period of fiscal stress for countries across the world, we look in vain for any cuts in taxes. But at least in Malta they are trying to improve matters for businesses through simplification of the tax system and throttling back the impositions of government. As I say that, I can already hear the offended wailings of the anti-brigade: oh, but Malta is offshore, it is a tax haven, it steals revenue from big “respectable” countries like Germany by helping banks and gaming companies with low tax rates, so that they can’t get the revenue to help their poor, huddled masses to survive the rigors of the nuclear winter we are all trying to survive. Let’s be clear: the “nuclear winter” is a direct result of the debts taken on by those countries’ politicians in pursuit of … Read More »
The EU’s ECOFIN (Finance Ministers of the 28 Member States) had another futile discussion on the Savings Tax Directive last week. Futile not because the target of universal information exchange is unachievable – after recent events, most countries have already accepted it, at least at the level of individual taxation – but because the planned expansion of the Directive to cover companies, trusts and other “personnes morales” is something that the EU will be unable to impose on the third party jurisdictions which were browbeaten into operating the original Directive. And imposition on the third parties is something that would be self-defeating even if it were feasible, because it would only cover those jurisdictions such as Jersey and Guernsey over which EU Member States have some control, and there are plenty of options for wealth-owners in other parts of the … Read More »