The European Commission has launched an in-depth investigation to check whether a Spanish scheme for the purchase of ships involving leasing and financing through tax relief is compatible with EU rules on state aid.
This scheme would enable maritime transport companies to purchase ships, under certain conditions, at prices that are between 20% and 30% lower than the market price. It appears, at this point in time, that this would result in advantages for the investors and companies taking part in the scheme. The launching of this in-depth investigation will allow all the interested parties to express their points of view. It does not prejudge the outcome of the procedure.
Commissioner Almunia said: “The European Union needs a maritime sector that is competitive at international level and hence allows, for that purpose, favourable taxation based on tonnage to prevent companies from relocating. This investigation is not questioning the principle of the tax but the Commission must ensure that this Spanish scheme does not go beyond what is permitted by European rules and does not create undue distortions of competition in the single market”.
The Spanish scheme would allow a transport company to purchase a ship using a complex contractual and financial structure rather than directly from a shipyard, at prices that are up to 30% lower than the market price.
According to the information available, these complex structures were set up by Spanish banks and generally involve a leasing company, Spanish taxpayers wishing to reduce their basic taxable amount and an economic interest grouping (EIG), which is the initial beneficiary of the tax measures in question. Some of the tax measures necessary for the scheme must be approved beforehand by the tax authorities.
At this stage, the Commission considers that this scheme comprises state aid for the EIGs involved, the taxpayers investing in it and the maritime companies purchasing the vessels, and possibly also for the shipyards and certain intermediaries.
Member States can help maritime transport companies to remain competitive at international level in line with the guidelines on state aid for shipping 1, for instance by applying taxes to them based on fleet tonnage.
To date, the Commission has authorised the tonnage tax arrangements of 16 Member States.