Engie (former GDF Suez) is a French electric utility company. Engie Treasury Management S.à.r.l., a treasury company, and Engie LNG Supply, S.A, a liquefied natural gas trading company, are both part of the Engie group. In November 2017, Total has signed an agreement with Engie to acquire its LNG business, including Engie LNG Supply.
In 2018 the European Commission has found that Luxembourg allowed two Engie group companies to avoid paying taxes on almost all their profits for about a decade. This is illegal under EU State aid rules because it gives Engie an undue advantage. Luxembourg must now recover about €120 million in unpaid tax.
The Commission’s State aid investigation concluded that the Luxembourg tax rulings gave Engie a significant competitive advantage in Luxembourg. It does not call into question the general tax regime of Luxembourg.
In particular, the Commission found that the tax rulings endorsed an inconsistent tax treatment of the same structure leading to non-taxation at all levels. Engie LNG Supply and Engie Treasury Management each significantly reduce their taxable profits in Luxembourg by deducting expenses similar to interest payments for a loan. At the same time, Engie LNG Holding and C.E.F. avoid paying any tax because Luxembourg tax rules exempt income from equity investments from taxation.
This is a more favourable treatment than under the standard Luxembourg tax rules, which exempt from taxation income received by a shareholder from its subsidiary, provided that income is in general taxed at the level of the subsidiary.
On this basis, the Commission concluded that the tax rulings issued by Luxembourg gave a selective advantage to the Engie group which could not be justified. Therefore, the Commission decision found that Luxembourg’s tax treatment of Engie endorsed by the tax rulings is illegal under EU State aid rules.
The decision was appealed to the European General Court by Luxembourg and Engie.
Judgement of the Court
The General Court decided in favour of the Commission and held that a set of tax rulings issued by Luxembourg artificially reduced Engie’s tax bill by around €120 million. The tax rulings endorsed two financing structures put in place by Engie that treated the same transaction both as debt and as equity, with the result that its profits remained untaxed. The General Court has also confirmed that State aid enforcement can be a tool to tackle abusive tax planning structures that deviate from the objectives of the general tax system. See the Press Release of the Court