Tax discrimination and tax harmonisation in the European Union
The power to tax enables a State to organise its tax law on the basis of its national standards with respect to economic effectiveness and equity. Taxes are a decisive financial factor for the governmental expenditure, the regulation of business, the promotion of the public goods and the competition between States. The revenue of taxes can represent a method of income and wealth distribution, a social control by increasing taxes on products regarded as harmful such as tobacco and alcohol, and pollution can be limited by tax concessions. Tax sovereignty is therefore one of the most sensitive issues for the member States and its transfer considered an undesirable diminution in national sovereignty. Improvements in communication and transport are creating new opportunities but also posing complex challenges for tax systems (e.g. the sale of goods and services via the Internet has noticeably increased in recent years). In the light of the increasing globalisation, States are forced to create a favourable environment for the investments of international enterprises. Thus, States try to prevent a shift of economic activities from home to abroad and at the same time to attract investments of foreign enterprises. This competition is generally acceptable since it avoids a spiralling increase of taxes, provides better State performance and public structures, unless it does not turn into harmful tax competition. Member States are required to eliminate tax obstacles for private individuals and businesses, which wish to work and operate freely within the Single Market since the defences in national tax systems have become increasingly evident and have a growing influence on economic decisions of individuals and enterprises. In addition to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice with regard to the provisos of the EC Treaty, in particular the fundamental freedoms, the Commission has aimed at harmonising or co-ordinating the Member States tax system within the field of indirect as well as direct taxation with varying degrees of success. This has mainly been caused by the reluctance of the Member States to agree to the measures demanded by the Commission. This processor will become even more difficult in face of the European Union’s fifth and biggest enlargement with ten new Member States on 1 May 2004. However, the European Union has the chance to lay down the fundamental provisions towards a “European Tax System” in the European Constitution. Agreement not only upon these important issues has still not been reached.