Advisory Opinion of the Court:
“1. In the absence of clear and precise provisions of national law that a company moving its head office outside the State of incorporation must liquidate, and of any decision by the competent authorities and courts putting the liquidation into effect, the relocation of head office to another EEA State does not frustrate the company‘s right to rely on Article 31 EEA. In such circumstances, the company may rely on Article 31 EEA to challenge the lawfulness of a tax imposed on it by the home State on the occasion of the relocation of its head office to another EEA State.
The definitive establishment of the amount of tax payable by a company that relocates its head office outside the realm of Norway based on the assessment of the tax authorities that it is in avoidance of taxation consequent to an obligation to wind up and liquidate the company pursuant to national company law, constitutes a restriction under Articles 31 and 34 EEA if companies deemed to be in breach of such an obligation, but not seeking relocation, are not subject to liquidation taxation.
2. The definitive establishment of the amount of tax payable by a company based on the assessment of the tax authorities that the company is in avoidance of taxation consequent to an obligation to wind up and liquidate the company pursuant to national company law may be justified on the grounds of maintaining the balanced allocation of powers of taxation between the EEA States and preventing tax avoidance. These grounds constitute overriding reasons in the public interests. Moreover, the definitive establishment of the amount of tax payable by a company is appropriate in relation to ensuring the attainment of these objectives.
The definitive establishment of the amount of tax payable by a company based on the assessment of the tax authorities in the EEA State of origin that the company is in avoidance of taxation consequent to an obligation to wind up and liquidate the company pursuant to national company law must be regarded as not going beyond what is necessary to attain the objectives relating to the need to maintain the balanced allocation of powers of taxation between the EEA States and to prevent tax avoidance, insofar as it provides for the consideration of objective and verifiable elements in order to determine whether the relocation of a head office represents an arrangement incompatible with the rules of domestic company law.
If the consideration of objective and verifiable elements leads to the conclusion that the company is not in compliance with the rules of national company law and should therefore be subject to liquidation, the definitive establishment of the amount of tax payable must be – 25 – confined to the consequences of liquidation in order to remain compatible with the principle of proportionality. It is for the national court to verify whether the decision at issue in the main proceedings goes beyond what is necessary to attain the objectives pursued by the legislation.
A national measure that prescribes the immediate recovery of tax on unrealised assets and tax positions at the time of the assessment of the tax authorities that a company has lost its status as a separate legal entity under national law, but without any decision by the authorities or courts competent to determine that the company has lost that status, is precluded by Article 31 EEA”.
The EFTA Court follows the lines of the ECJ National Grid Indus judgment (see our comments to DIVI and Commission v. Portugal, but in our view, it seems to admit that in presence of clear and precise provisions following the real seat theory, freedom of establishment could not be invoked by a company moving to other Member State. In our view the ECJ has come to a different view in the VALE judgment.
Many thanks to Tom O’Shea for the tip.
Resumen no oficial de la sentencia elaborado por ECJ Leading Cases:
La sentencia del Tribunal de la Asociación Europea de Libre Comercio (EFTA) considera que una sociedad puede invocar la libertad de Establecimiento si la legislación del Estado miembro de origen no establece caramente que el traslado de sede al extranjero impone la obligación de que tal sociedad sea liquidada y, además, tal liquidación se haya producido en virtud de una decisión adoptada por la autoridad o tribunal competente.
En esta situación, se lesiona la libertad de establecimiento si el imcumplimiento de la obligación de liquidación da lugar al devengo de un impuesto en el caso de sociedades que trasladan su residencia a otro Estado miembro y no a las sociedades que mantienen su residencia, pero que deberían ser objeto de liquidación por otros motivos legales.
La sentencia considera que la restricción de la libertad de establecimiento prevista por la normativa noruega está justificada por la necesidad de preservar el reparto equilibrado del poder tributario y por una finalidad anti-abuso, pero va más allá de lo necesario, al no permitir el aplazamiento con intereses (y con garantía bancaria si esta fuera necesaria teniendo en cuenta el riesgo de impago).
Comentario: la sentencia del Tribunal de la EFTA invoca expresamente -entre otras- la STJUE National Grid Indus (véase nuestro comentario a las STJUE DIVI y Comisión v. Portugal). Sin embargo, parece dar por supuesto que si un Estado miembro adopta la doctrina de la sede real, las sociedades que sean liquidadas con motivo del traslado de sede a otro Estado miembro no podrán invocar la libertad de establecimiento. A nuestro juidico, este planteamiento no se corresponde con el de la STJUE VALE.
Muchas gracias a Tom O’Shea por facilitarnos la sentencia.