France is urging EU countries to step up efforts to address how they tax the digital economy after criticising the amounts paid by some online platforms such as Airbnb.
Bruno Le Maire, the French finance minister, said “new momentum” was needed to get a fairer contribution from digital platforms such as Airbnb, following a report that the online booking service paid less than €100,000 tax in France last year.
“All companies need to pay their fair share in tax in all the countries they operate in. That’s not the case today,” Mr Le Maire said on Thursday. “It’s time to change gear.
“We want the EU to take the lead in tackling this global issue. And France is ready to put forward some ambitious ideas to move the debate forward.”
His comments sharpen the debate in the EU over how to tax US technology companies, after the European Commission last year demanded that Ireland collect €13bn in back taxes from Apple.
They also reflect hope in Paris for closer co-operation with Berlin in the wake of Emmanuel Macron’s presidential election win. Germany and France have agreed to work together on corporate tax matters and the two countries are set to put a joint proposal on taxing the digital economy to a meeting of EU finance ministers in Estonia next month.
Mr Le Maire was responding to a report in France’s Le Parisien newspaper this week, which said Airbnb paid less than €100,000 in taxes last year despite more than 10m French people using the online hospitality site.
Branding low tax payments “unacceptable”, he told the national assembly on Wednesday: “It is Airbnb’s right to operate in France, but it also our duty to demand from Airbnb and all digital platforms a fair contribution to the French public treasury.”
Airbnb said on Thursday: “We follow the rules and pay all the tax we owe in the places we do business. Our France office provides marketing services and pays all applicable taxes, including VAT.”
The Commission is working on a common consolidated corporate tax base project to try to re-establish the link between taxation and the place where profits are made. The French government wants to amend the directive to include specific provisions for digital companies, and has discussed informally with Brussels the possibility of a separate directive.
A spokeswoman for the commission, which has set up an expert group on taxing the digital economy, said: “We are of course involved in the preparation of those discussions and we will bring our own ideas to the table.”
While Brussels can propose initiatives in the area of taxation, they require unanimous support from national governments to be implemented, which often makes getting deals on new rules difficult.
The Commission said discussions were continuing about how to adapt tax rules to the collaborative economy.
“Tax is complicated and we can’t necessarily race into a new area like this without reflecting — and reflecting is exactly what we are doing,” a spokeswoman said, adding that Brussels has sent guidance to national capitals on how to apply existing tax rules in this area. “Our broad approach to this is that it’s really central to maintain a level playing field . . . we will discuss and reflect with our member states and we will see what ideas evolve from that.”
Last month Google won a legal victory when French judges ruled that the company did not dodge French tax laws and would not have to pay €1.12bn in back taxes.
Google had been accused of illegally routing sales in France through Ireland to avoid paying higher corporate taxes. But the tribunal decided Google’s Irish subsidiary responsible for its European operations was not subject to corporate and value added taxes in France.
Additional reporting by Guy Chazan in Berlin
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