The question in this case, was whether EU community law precluded Belgien statutory rules under which interest payments were reclassified as dividends, and thus taxable, if made to a foreign shareholder company.
A Belgian subsidiary was established and the two shareholders of the Belgian subsidiary and the parent company, established in the Netherlands, were appointed as directors. The subsidiary paid interest to the parent which was considered by the Belgian tax authorities in part to be dividends and was assessed as such.
The European Court of Justice was asked to rule on the compatibility of these Belgien statutory rules with EU Community law
The Court ruled that art. 43 and 48 EC precluded national legislation under which interest payments made by a company resident in a member state to a director which was a company established in another member state were reclassified as taxable dividends, where, at the beginning of the taxable period, the total of the interest-bearing loans was higher than the paid-up capital plus taxed reserves, whereas, in the same circumstances, interest payments made to a director which was a company established in the same member state were not reclassified and so were not taxable.
National legislation introduced, as regards the taxation of interest paid by a resident company in respect of a claim to a director which was a company, a difference in treatment according to whether or not the latter company had its seat in Belgium. Companies managed by a director which was a non resident company were subject to tax treatment which was less advantageous than that accorded to companies managed by a director which was a resident company. Similarly, in relation to groups of companies within which a parent company took on management tasks in one of its subsidiaries, such legislation introduced a difference in treatment between resident subsidiaries according to whether or not their parent company had its seat in Belgium, thereby making subsidiaries of a non resident parent company subject to treatment which was less favourable than that accorded to the subsidiaries of a resident parent company.
A difference in treatment between resident companies according to the place of establishment of the company which, as director, had granted them a loan constituted an obstacle to the freedom of establishment if it made it less attractive for companies established in other member states to exercise that freedom and they might, in consequence, refrain from managing a company in the member state which enacted that measure, or even refrain from acquiring, creating or maintaining a subsidiary in that member state.
The difference in treatment amounted to a restriction on freedom of establishment which was prohibited, in principle, by art. 43 and 48 EC. Such a restriction was permissible only if it pursued a legitimate objective which was compatible with the Treaty and was justified by overriding reasons of public interest. It was further necessary, in such a case, that its application was appropriate to ensuring the attainment of the objective thus pursued and did not go beyond what was necessary to attain it.
“In order for a restriction on the freedom of establishment to be justified on the ground of prevention of abusive practices, the specific objective of such a restriction must be to prevent conduct involving the creation of wholly artificial arrangements which do not reflect economic reality, with a view to escaping the tax normally due on the profits generated by activities carried out on national territory (Test Claimants in the Thin Cap Group Litigation, paragraph 74 and the case‑law cited”
Even if the Belgian application of such a statutory limit sought to combat abusive practices, it went beyond what was necessary to attain that objective.
Case C-105-07 Lammers & Van Cleeff NV