Tango with the Tax Man: Multinationals Find Loopholes Galore in Europe
Large multinationals, many of them based in the United States, are masters at avoiding taxes on profits made abroad. Apple, for example, paid just $100 million in taxes in 2010 on overseas profits of $13 billion. But Germany would like to put a stop to the practice, and is finding some influential support. By SPIEGEL Staff
Johannes Teyssen sees himself as a manager with a global outlook. The CEO of Düsseldorf-based energy giant E.on is proud of the fact that two-thirds of his revenues come from abroad. He also takes a global perspective when it comes to solving the major issues facing the future of his industry, from Germany’s shift to renewal energy to climate change. “Anyone who thinks in national terms is thinking too narrowly,” says Teyssen.
But now that his company is also seeing lower profits, it makes sense that Teyssen is trying to improve E.on’s bottom line with international help. The energy giant is making the final preparations to transform itself into a European stock corporation (SE) next year. What is now a German joint-stock company is to become a European corporation. The transformation will provide the group with new options, and the advantages are not just limited to escaping Germany’s rigid rules granting employees a say in company management.
The new designation will allow E.on to move its headquarters abroad, making it easier for the company to circumvent national and international fiscal authorities. In the jargon of tax experts, E.on is providing itself with new “options for fiscal optimization.” It’s completely legal, but it comes at the expense of the treasury.
The switch to SE will also allow the corporation, intentionally or unintentionally, the opportunity to catch up in a discipline where German competitors have lagged behind an elite league of multinational corporations: that of raking in billions while paying almost no taxes at all.
Corporations like Pepsi, Starbucks and Intel sell their products around the world, and seek to establish reputations for being environmentally conscious, progressive and socially responsible. But when it comes to allowing the government to collect a suitable portion of their corporate profits, the icons of global capitalism prove to be antisocial in the extreme.