Why? Well, the Spanish government has provided companies with a tasty tax
break that has allows them to claim all the goodwill on foreign acquisitions
back against tax over a period of ten years.
In the takeover of Abbey National, Santander enjoyed a €10bn (£7bn) fillip
from the Spanish taxman. Telefonica recorded €9bn in goodwill when it snapped up
The tax break has undoubtedly given Spanish companies an edge in takeover
battles, and in most cases it has been UK companies on the receiving end. The
relief on goodwill has been like making acquisitions on steroids.
At long last, the European Commission has decided to put a stop to what, as
I can tell, has been a blatantly unfair advantage.
EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes has opened a formal investigation
into the Spanish scheme and experts believe the EU may even go so far as to
demand that Spain claw back the tax from companies that have already benefited.
The Spanish government says the tax break does not discriminate against any
sector, is on offer to all companies domiciled in Spain and is a domestic policy
that is not any of the EC’s business.
Frankly, I don’t buy it. Tax relief on all goodwill, unlike interest relief,
is not a standard tax measure available in most jurisdictions. It is unusual and
Spanish companies are obviously angry about the EU move. Business in the rest
of the EU will probably be highly relieved. The odds of being outbid by a
Spanish rival have just become a whole lot shorter.
Nicholas Neveling is a reporter on Accountancy Age
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