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The European Union value added tax (or EU VAT) is a value added tax on goods and services within the European Union (EU). The EU's institutions do not collect the tax, but EU member states are each required to adopt a value added tax that complies with the EU VAT code. Different rates of VAT apply in different EU member states, ranging from 17% in Luxembourg to 27% in Hungary.[2] The total VAT collected by member states is used as part of the calculation to determine what each state contributes to the EU's budget.

Principle of VAT

EU VAT (known as "output VAT", that is, VAT on its output supplies) is charged by a business and paid by its customers. VAT that is paid by a business to other businesses on the supplies that it receives is known as "input VAT" (that is, VAT on its input supplies). A business is generally able to recover input VAT to the extent that the input VAT is attributable to (that is, used to make) its taxable outputs. Input VAT is recovered by offsetting it against the output VAT for which the business is required to account to the government, or, if there is an excess, by claiming a repayment from the government. The final consumer does not receive a credit for the VAT paid. The net effect of this is that each supplier in the chain remits tax on the value added, and ultimately the tax is paid by the end consumer.

Coordinated administration of value added tax within the EU

Value added tax collected at each stage in the supply chain is remitted to the tax authorities of the member state concerned and forms part of that state's revenue. A small proportion goes to the European Union in the form of a levy ("VAT-based own resources").

The co-ordinated administration of value added tax within the EU VAT area is an important part of the single market. Cross-border VAT is declared in the same way as domestic VAT, which facilitates the elimination of border controls between member states, saving costs and reducing delays. It also simplifies administrative work for freight forwarders. Previously, in spite of the customs union, the differing VAT rates and the separate VAT administration processes resulted in a high administrative and cost burden for cross-border trade.[3]

For private persons (not registered for VAT) who transport to one member state goods purchased while living or travelling in another member state, the VAT is normally payable in the state where the goods were purchased, regardless of any differences in VAT rates between the two states, and any tax payable on distance sales is collected by the seller. However, there a number of special provisions for particular goods and services.

European Union VAT directive

The aim of the EU VAT directive (Council Directive 2006/112/EC of 28 November 2006 on the common system of value added tax) is to harmonize VAT within the EU VAT area, and specifies that VAT rates must be within a certain range.[4] It has several basic purposes:

  • Harmonization of VAT law (content);
  • Harmonization of content and layout of the VAT declaration;
  • Regulation of accounting, providing a common legal accounting framework;
  • Detailed description of invoices (article 226) and receipts (article 226b), meaning that member states have a common invoice framework;
  • Regulation of accounts payable;
  • Regulation of accounts receivable;
  • Standard definition of national accountancy and administrative terms.

The VAT directive is published in all EU official languages.

Authority and scope of the tax

The European Community Treaty ("EC Treaty") authorises the Council and the Commission to make regulations and issue directives.[5]

The EU VAT system is regulated by a series of European Union directives, the most important of which is the Sixth VAT Directive.[6] This directive has been updated and replaced by another directive[7] since January 1st 2007. Important changes will occur when a subsequent Directive will address the issue on "the place of supply of services" and will be in force on January 1st 2010.[8]


Most member states already had a system of VAT before joining the EU but for some countries, such as Spain, VAT had to be introduced together with membership of the EU.

In 1977, the Council of the European Communities sought to harmonise the national VAT systems of its member states by issuing the Sixth Directive to provide a uniform basis of assessment and replacing the Second Directive promulgated in 1967.[9] In 2006, the Council sought to improve on the Sixth Directive by recasting it.[10]

On the harmonization of the legislation of the Member States with respect to turnover taxes (not applicable.) This act was adopted with the aim of replacing the multi-level cumulative indirect taxation system in the EU member states degree of simplification of tax calculations and neutrality of the indirect taxation factor in relation to competition in the EU.

The Sixth Directive characterised the EU VAT as harmonisation of the member states' general tax on the consumption of goods and services.[11] The Sixth Directive defined a taxable transaction within the EU VAT scheme as a transaction involving the supply of goods,[12] the supply of services,[13] and the importation of goods.[14]

On harmonization of the legislation of the Member States with respect to turnover taxes—provisions on the reimbursement of value added tax to taxable persons not established on the territory of the country (the provisions of this act allow a taxpayer of one Member State to receive a VAT refund in another Member State).

The recast of the Sixth Directive retained all of the legal provisions of the Sixth Directive but also incorporated VAT provisions found in other Directives whilst rearranging the order of the text to make it more readable.[15] In addition, the Recast Directive codified certain other instruments including a Commission decision of 2000 relating to funding of the EU budget from with a percentage of the VAT amounts collected by each Member State.[16]

Supply of goods

A domestic supply of goods is a taxable transaction where goods are received in exchange for consideration within one member state.[17] Thus, one member state then charges VAT on the goods and allows a corresponding credit upon resale.

An Intra-Community acquisition of goods is a taxable transaction for consideration crossing two or more member states.[18] The place of supply is determined to be the destination member state, and VAT is normally charged at the rate applicable in the destination member state;[19] however there are special provisions for distance selling (see below).

The mechanism for achieving this result is as follows. The exporting member state zero-rates the VAT. This means that the member state of the exporting merchant does not collect VAT on the sale, but still gives the exporting merchant a credit for the VAT paid on the purchase by the exporter (in practice this often means a cash refund). The importing member state "reverse charges" the VAT. This means that the importer is required to pay VAT to the importing member state at its rate. In many cases a credit is immediately given for this as input VAT. The importer then charges VAT on resale in the normal way.[19]

When a vendor in one member state sells goods directly to individuals and VAT-exempt organisations in another member state and the aggregate value of goods sold to consumers in that member state is below €100,000 (or the equivalent, e.g. in the UK as of April 2013 it is £79,000) in any 12 consecutive months, then such a sale of goods may qualify for a distance sales treatment.[20] Distance sales treatment allows the vendor to apply domestic place of supply rules for determining which member state collects the VAT.[20] This means that VAT is charged at the rate applicable in the exporting member state. However, there are some additional restrictions to be met. For instance, supply of new motor vehicles like cars, trucks and boats does not qualify.[21] As well, a compulsory VAT registration is required for a supplier of excisable goods to the U.K. (like tobacco and alcohol).

If sales to final consumers in a member state exceed €100,000, the exporting vendor is required to charge VAT at the rate applicable in the importing member state. If a supplier provides a distant sales service to several EU member states, a separate accounting of sold goods in regards to VAT calculation is required. The supplier then must seek a VAT registration (and charge applicable rate) in each such country where the volume of sales in any 12 consecutive months exceeds local threshold.

A special threshold amount of €35,000 is allowed if the importing member state fears that without the lower threshold amount competition within the member state would be distorted.[20]

Supply of services

A supply of services is the supply of anything that is not a good.[22]

The general rule for determining the place of supply is the place where the supplier of the services is established (or "belongs"), such as a fixed establishment where the service is supplied, the supplier's permanent address, or where the supplier usually resides.[23] VAT is then charged at the rate applicable in the member state where the place of supply of the services is located and is collected by that member state.[23]

This general rule for the place of supply of services (the place where the supplier is established) is subject to several exceptions, if the services are supplied to customers established outside the Community, or to taxable persons established in the Community but not in the same country as the supplier. Most of the exceptions switch the place of supply to the place where the services are received. Such exceptions include the:

  • Supply of transport services;
  • Supply of cultural services;
  • Supply of artistic services;
  • Supply of sporting services;
  • Supply of scientific services;
  • Supply of educational services;
  • Supply of ancillary transport services;
  • Supply of services related to transfer pricing services.

And many miscellaneous services including:

  • Supply of legal services;
  • Supply of banking and financial services;
  • Supply of telecommunications;
  • Supply of broadcasting;
  • Electronically supplied services;
  • Supply of services from engineers and accountants;
  • Supply of advertising services;
  • Supply of intellectual property services.

The place of supply of services related to real estate is where the real estate is located.[23]

There are special rules for determining the place of supply of services delivered electronically.

The mechanism for collecting VAT when the place of supply is not in the same member state as the supplier is similar to that used for Intra-Community Acquisitions of goods, i.e. zero-rating by the supplier and reverse charge by the recipient of the services (if a taxable person). But if the recipient of the services is not a taxable person (i.e. a final consumer), the supplier must generally charge VAT at the rate applicable in its own member state.

If the place of supply is outside the EU, no VAT is charged.

Importation of goods

Goods imported from non-member states are subject to VAT at the rate applicable in the member state into which the goods are imported, regardless of whether the goods are received for consideration and regardless of who imports the goods.[24] VAT is generally charged at the border, at the same time as customs duty and using the price determined by customs.[25] However, as a result of the action of EU administrative VAT relief, an exception called Low Value Consignment Relief is allowed on shipments of a low value.

VAT paid on importation is treated as input VAT in the same way as VAT on domestic purchases.

Following changes introduced on 1 July 2003, non-EU businesses providing digital electronic commerce and entertainment products and services to EU countries are also required to register with the tax authorities in the relevant EU member state, and to collect VAT on their sales at the appropriate rate, according to the location of the purchaser.[26] Alternatively, under a special scheme, non-EU and non-digital-goods[27] businesses may register and account for VAT on only one EU member state.[26] This produces distortions as the rate of VAT is that of the member state of registration, not where the customer is located, and an alternative approach is therefore under negotiation, whereby VAT is charged at the rate of the member state where the purchaser is located.[26]

Exemption from VAT

There is a distinction between goods and services that are exempt from VAT and those that are subject to 0% VAT. The seller of exempt goods is not entitled to reclaim VAT on business purchases, whereas the seller of goods and services rated at 0% is entitled.[28] An example would be a book manufacturer in Ireland, who purchases paper including VAT at the 23% rate,[29] and sells books at the 0% rate;[30] the manufacturer would be entitled to reclaim the VAT paid on the paper as the business is making taxable supplies. In countries like Sweden and Finland non-profit organisations such as sports clubs are exempt from all VAT, and have to pay full VAT for purchases without reclaim. Also in Malta, the purchase of food for human consumption from supermarkets, grocers etc., the purchase of pharmaceutical products, school tuition fees and scheduled bus service fares are exempted from VAT.[31] The EU commission wants to abolish or reduce the scope of exemptions.[32] There are objections from sports federations since this would create cost and a lot of bureaucracy for voluntary staff.[33]

Eighth and Thirteenth Directives

Businesses can be required to register for VAT in EU member states, other than the one in which they are based if they supply goods via mail order to those states over a certain threshold. Businesses that are established in one member state but receive supplies in another member state may be able to reclaim VAT charged in the second state.[34] To do so, businesses have a value added tax identification number. A similar directive, the Thirteenth VAT Directive, also allows businesses established outside the EU to recover VAT in certain circumstances.[35]

Registering for VAT using Mini One Stop Shop (MOSS)

To comply with these new rules, businesses need to decide whether or not they want to register to use the EU VAT Mini One Stop Shop (MOSS) simplification scheme. Registration for MOSS is voluntary.[36] If suppliers decide against the MOSS, registration will be required in each Member State where B2C supplies of e-services are made. With no minimum turnover threshold for the new EU VAT rules, VAT registration will be required regardless of the value of e-service supply in each Member State. EU MOSS registrations opened on October 1st, 2014 [37]

Zero rate derogation

Some goods and services are "zero-rated". The zero rate is treated like a positive rate of tax calculated at 0%. Supplies subject to the zero rate are still "taxable supplies", that is, they count as having VAT charged on them. In the U.K., examples include most food, books, medications, and certain kinds of transport. The zero rate is not featured in the EU Sixth Directive as it was intended that the minimum VAT rate throughout Europe would be 5%. However, zero-rating remains in some member states, most notably the UK and Ireland, as a legacy of pre-EU legislation. These member states have been granted a derogation to continue existing zero-rating but cannot add new goods or services. An EU member state may uplift their domestic zero rate to a higher rate, for example to 5% or 20%, however, EU VAT rules do not allow a reversal back to the zero rate once it has been given up. Member States may institute a reduced rate on a previously zero rated item even where EU law does not provide for a reduced rate, however if a Member State makes an increase from a zero rate to the prevalent standard rate, they may not then decrease down to a reduced rate unless specifically provided for in EU VAT Law (Annexe III of EU Dir 2006/112 list sets out where a reduced rate is permissible).

The U.K. also applies the lower rate on some products depending on how the supply is being made; for example, milk products bought from a retailer are subject to VAT at 0% rate, but milk drinks bought in a restaurant are subject to VAT at the standard 20% rate.

VAT rates

Different rates of VAT apply in different EU member states. The lowest standard rate of VAT throughout the EU is 17%, although member states can apply reduced rates of VAT to certain goods and services. Certain goods and services are required to be exempt from VAT (for example, postal services, medical care, lending, insurance, betting), and certain other goods and services to be exempt from VAT but subject to the ability of an EU member state to opt to charge VAT on those supplies (such as land and certain financial services). Input VAT that is attributable to exempt supplies is not recoverable.

EU VAT area

The EU VAT area is a territory consisting of territory of all member states of the European Union and certain other countries which follow the European Union's (EU) rules on value added tax (VAT).[57] The principle is also valid for some special taxes on products like alcohol and tobacco.

Goods are only considered as imported or exported if they enter or leave the area. The VAT percentage does, however, differ from country to country within the area, which is a complicating factor, especially when, for example, an Internet-based reseller in one EU country sells to an EU customer in a different EU country.

When goods or services are sold to a company across a border within the area, either the buyer pays the sales country's VAT to the seller, or it is possible to register the transaction as an inter-company sale with no VAT being collected. If VAT has been paid the buyer cannot include it in their VAT accounts like VAT paid locally.

When goods or services are sold (and sent) to a private person across a border within the area, the buyer usually pays the sales country's VAT to the seller, and does not pay any VAT in the buyer's country. But if the seller's annual sales of goods to the buyer's country exceed a threshold (which varies by country), the seller must instead charge VAT in the buyer's country. These are known as the distance selling rules.[58] When a private person visits another EU country and buys goods, the seller does not have to take special action, just claim the local VAT, and the buyer can bring it home for personal use or gifts without limits.The 2015 EU VAT legislation requires two non-conflicting pieces of evidence to be produced so as to determine what VAT rate should be applied to these digital goods sales.[59]

EU sellers may validate the VAT number of a buyer residing within the EU Value Added Tax Area using VIES.

All EU member states are part of the VAT area. However some areas of member states are exempt areas:

Included with the Republic of Cyprus at its 19% rate:

Included with the United Kingdom at its 20% rate:

Included with France at its 20% rate:

Areas of Finland:

Areas of France:

Areas of Germany:

Areas of Greece:

Areas of Italy

Areas of Spain:

British Overseas Territories:

Areas of the Kingdom of Denmark:

Areas of France:

Areas of the Kingdom of the Netherlands:

British Overseas Territories and Crown dependencies:

Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein (EEA) and Switzerland are not included.

See also

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