Per quasi un decennio, il meccanismo francese di contrasto all’abuso del diritto, codificato nell’art. L64 Livre des procédures fiscales, è stato al centro di un dibattito in ambito tributario. Gli organi giurisdizionali di ultima istanza – i.e. il Conseil d’Etat (la Suprema Corte Amministrativa) e la Cour de Cassation (la Suprema Corte) – hanno rinnovato la teoria dell’abuso del diritto in materia tributaria. Questo nuovo approccio è stato in larga parte influenzato dalla dottrina della Corte di Giustizia dell’Unione Europea (CGUE). Partendo da un’interpretazione di tale approccio della CGUE e seguendo le indicazioni prospettate dal Conseil d’Etat, il Parlamento francese ha tentato di estendere il concetto di “frode in ambito tributario”. Tale estensione è stata, tuttavia, condannata dalla Corte costituzionale francese (Conseil consitutionnel), con la decisione del 29 dicembre 2013, la quale allinea la propria interpretazione con la giurisprudenza della CGUE e della Corte Europea dei Diritti Umani. Questa decisione fissa limiti diversi per una nuova definizione di “frode fiscale”.
Abuse of right: an impossible reform?
For almost 10 years, the French procedure preventing abuse of right, codified in art. L64 of the Livre des procédures fiscales, is at the heart of the debate on taxation. The highest judicial bodies – i.e. the Conseil d’Etat (Administrative Supreme Court) and the Cour de Cassation (Judicial Supreme Court) – have renewed the theory of abuse of right in taxation matters. This new movement has been to a large extent influenced by the doctrine of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). Starting from an interpretation of the CJEU’s doctrine and following the path opened by the Conseil d’Etat, the French Parliament attempted to extend the concept of “fraud in tax matters”. Nevertheless, this extension has been condemned by the Conseil constitutionnel (French Constitutional Court), with its decision of 29 December 2013, which aligns its interpretation with the case law of the CJEU and of the European Court of Human Rights. This decision sets different limits for a new definition of “tax fraud”.
1. The French background
The French legal framework against abuse of right in tax matters has a legal basis since 1941. Before the reforms of the article L. 64 of the Tax Procedure Code by the Finances Act of 2008, this article only covers the case of fictitious act (the first branch of abuse of right). A specificity of the article is that a reassessment based on the article L. 64 of the Tax Procedure Code will justify the application of a penalty of 80% or 40% of the unpaid tax. Also, even if the abuse of right is not in formal point of view an offence according to the criminal code , it is covered by the Principle applicable in criminal matter, such as the jurisdiction of the Legislative on criminal matter or the legality of criminal offences and penalties.
The second branch of abuse of right, tax fraud did not result from Statute law but from a doctrine of both French Supreme Courts based on an interpretation of the article L. 64 of the Tax Procedure Code . In their decisions the Conseil d’Etat and the Cour de Cassation ruled that the Revenue Service can set aside an act made by the taxpayer if no other motives, than tax reasons, justify the act. From these resolutions, the abuse of rights in French law is constituted of two branches: the fictious act, expressly provided by the Statute law, and the operation intended to a tax advantage, called the tax fraud, issuing from a construction of both French Supreme Courts.
The development of the European Case Law has impacted the general doctrine of the abuse of right, more specifically the definition of tax fraud. As the European Court of Justice only admits provision preventing wholly artificial arrangements set up to circumvent tax legislation , the Conseil d’Etat rules that the French definition of tax fraud is aimed especially to prevent wholly artificial arrangements set up to circumvent tax legislation . Therefore, the definition of tax fraud was expressly based on a double criterion, in accordance with the doctrine of the European Court of Justice: the artificial arrangements and the motive to circumvent legislation . A year later, the Conseil d’Etat gave another definition of the tax fraud, more in the overall spirit of the French law. Tax fraud was defined as an act aiming at benefiting from a tax advantage, by a literal application of the law contrary to the aims of the author of the law, and inspired by no other motives than tax evasion or tax reduction . This doctrine of the Conseil d’Etat was enshrined in the new article L. 64 of the Tax Procedure Code, by the article 35 of the Amending Finance Law 2008 . Re-stating the definition of the one given by the doctrine of the Conseil d’Etat, the new provision required three cumulative criteria in order to qualify tax fraud: 1° the literal application of a tax provision contrary to the purpose of the author of the [continua..]