Posts Tagged VAT

Sjelle Autogenbrug, CJEU defines second hand goods.

A quick note on second-hand goods and VAT. For my review of Bot AG’s Opinion in C-471/15 Sjelle Autogenbrug, see here. The Court held yesterday and defined (at 32) second-hand goods essentially as follows: in order to be characterised as ‘second-hand goods’, it is only necessary that the used property has maintained the functionalities it possessed when new, and that it may, therefore, be reused as it is or after repair.

The Court does not refer to EU waste law yet the impact on that area of EU law is clear.

Geert.

Handbook of EU Waste Law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 1.

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Sjelle Autogenbrug, second hand goods. A core tutorial on the VAT mechanism and how in law, all is connected.

In C-471/15 Sjelle Autogenbrug, Bot AG opined a few weeks ago. I find myself curiously drawn to VAT cases these days. Especially since I reported how in a VAT case, the CJEU perhaps accidentally came to a major decision on the Aarhus Convention. Also have a look for instance on how the same AG discusses ‘cultural services’ within the context of VAT (C-592/15 BFI). Or perhaps it is because I have a past (and potentially, a future) in customs duties and excise.

It is particularly interesting to ponder how terminology that is used across the board in EU law, specifically also regulatory law, is interpreted in the context of VAT. (Incidentally the Advocate General gives an excellent summary of VAT rules and why VAT can /should be set-off between traders). In the case at hand, Directive 2006/112 provides i.a. the following definition for second-hand goods: “second-hand goods” means movable tangible property that is suitable for further use as it is or after repair, other than works of art, collectors’ items or antiques and other than precious metals or precious stones as defined by the Member States; 

Sjelle Autogenbrug I/S is a vehicle reuse undertaking whose main activity is the resale of used motor vehicle parts which it removes from end-of-life vehicles. It also engages in the environmental and waste treatment of end-of-life vehicles, a service for which it charges a standard price. Lastly, a lesser part of the undertaking’s overall turnover derives from the sale of scrap metal remaining after removal of the motor vehicle parts. Sjelle Autogenbrug purchases end-of-life vehicles — which are either vehicles whose lifespan has expired or total write-offs — from individuals and insurance companies who do not declare VAT on sales made. Sjelle Autogenbrug currently declares VAT pursuant to the applicable general rules. In 2010, it asked the tax authorities to apply the special margin scheme for second-hand goods to its activity of reselling used motor vehicle parts taken from end-of-life vehicles. The authorities refused.

Since the goods are reintroduced into the distribution chain, the taxable dealer is liable for VAT when he resells the goods. However, as the taxable dealer did not pay VAT when he purchased the second-hand goods from the non-taxable individual, he cannot deduct such VAT from the amount to be paid to the State, being an amount comprised exclusively of the VAT charged upon resale of those goods. This results in a lack of VAT neutrality and in the double taxation of the goods (at 26). The margin scheme was adopted to alleviate that difficulty. It aims to harmonise the rules applicable to the acquisition of new goods subject to VAT which are later resold as second-hand goods and to prevent double taxation and the distortion of competition between taxable persons in the area of second-hand goods.

The Danish government submits that the use in that provision of the words ‘as it is’ demonstrates that, in order to be classified as ‘second-hand goods’, the goods must retain their identity, which is not the case with spare parts since Sjelle Autogenbrug acquires, first of all, a complete vehicle. Furthermore, it argues that even if those spare parts could be classified as ‘second-hand goods’, it would not be possible to apply the margin scheme because the purchase price of the spare parts cannot be precisely determined.

Bot AG disagrees:

  • the EU legislature did not intend to exclude goods originating from a single whole which could be separated, such as parts taken from end-of-life vehicles (at 33)
  • the key factor in the classification of goods as ‘second-hand goods’ is that the used goods must retain the characteristics they had when new (at 35). He refers in this context also tho the end-of life-vehicles Directive, 2000/53, which defined ‘reuse’ as ‘any operation by which components of end-of-life vehicles are used for the same purpose for which they were conceived’. ‘Motor vehicle parts fall squarely within that definition since, even when separated from the vehicle, they retain their original characteristics as they will be reused for the same purpose in another vehicle. The fact that those parts were removed from the vehicle is therefore of little consequence.‘ (at 35)

The Advocate General further considered that were the special margin scheme not to be applied, dealers of second hand spare parts would be disfavoured vis-a-vis those dealing in new spare parts. Hardly indeed a result that would be conducive to the circular economy.

EU waste law does not employ the notion ‘second hand goods’. In practice these goods have raised all sorts of demarcation issues. Summarising all these, if one and the same good is simply passed on to ‘a second hand’, ie the original owner no longer has a use for it but it can be passed on by someone else who will employ it for its original purpose and without there being a need for treatment or processing, it should not be regarded as waste.

It is only be looking into all nooks and crannies of EU law that  ambitious projects like the circular economy will be a real success. Current Opinion is a good illustration of such successful consideration.

Handbook of EU Waste Law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 1.

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CJEU finds Aarhus does not add value in Belgian VAT case.

As a practising lawyer registered to the Belgian Bar I had more than a passing interest in C‑543/14 Orde van Vlaamse Balies v Ministerraad. The case was held on 28 July. At issue is the reversal of the Belgian exemption of legal services from value-added tax (VAT). Of interest for this blog was the Bar Council’s argument that making legal services subject to VAT endangers access to court for individuals. Corporations recover said VAT from the tax their own sales incur. For them, making legal services subject to VAT has zero impact on their books.

The Bar Council sought support among others in the Aarhus Convention, particularly Article 9(4) and (5) on access to court:

‘3.       In addition and without prejudice to the review procedures referred to in paragraphs 1 and 2 above, each Party shall ensure that, where they meet the criteria, if any, laid down in its national law, members of the public have access to administrative or judicial procedures to challenge acts and omissions by private persons and public authorities which contravene provisions of its national law relating to the environment.

4.       In addition and without prejudice to paragraph 1 above, the procedures referred to in paragraphs 1, 2 and 3 above shall provide adequate and effective remedies, including injunctive relief as appropriate, and be fair, equitable, timely and not prohibitively expensive. Decisions under this article shall be given or recorded in writing. Decisions of courts, and whenever possible of other bodies, shall be publicly accessible.

5.       In order to further the effectiveness of the provisions of this article, each Party shall ensure that information is provided to the public on access to administrative and judicial review procedures and shall consider the establishment of appropriate assistance mechanisms to remove or reduce financial and other barriers to access to justice.’

Perhaps taking inspiration from the Grand Chamber’s approach in Vereniging Milieudefensie, and consistent with the suggestion of Sharpston AG, the five judges Chamber dismissed direct effect for Articles 9(4) and (5) of Aarhus, mostly because of the Conventions deference in Article 9(3) to ‘national law’.

Given the increasing (but as noted recently qualified; see also here) cloud the CJEU’s Grand Chamber had been given Aarhus, this finding by a five judge chamber that Aarhus Articles 9(4) and (5) do not have direct effect is a little awkward. It also puts the Grand Chamber itself in a challenging position. There are quite a number of Aarhus-related cases pending. Will this chamber’s view on 9(4) and (5) be followed by the assembled top dogs? And if it is not, can the Grand Chamber overrule or distinguish without embarrassment?

Geert.

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Mormones, tax and religion. A (small) further piece in the religion /ECHR jigsaw

In Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints v the UK, the ECtHR discussed ‘place of public religious worship’  within the context of a UK tax dispute. For the Church (aka the Mormons) to receive favourable (local) tax treatment for the real estate part of their portfolio, their places of worship had to be ‘public’ – while for doctrinal reasons at least part of the Church buildings must not be public. The House of Lords had already held previously (2008, 1964)in related cases.

The purpose of the UK exemption is to benefit religious buildings which provided a ‘service to the general public’. The same regime applies to all religions and the Church of England, for instance, likewise sees part of its churches, in particular its private Chapels, not exempt.

The ECtHR held that the policy of exempting from rates buildings used for public religious worship fell within the State’s margin of appreciation under Articles 14 and 9 taken together. The legislation is neutral, in that it is the same for all religious groups as regards the manifestation of religious beliefs in private; and indeed produces exactly the same negative consequences for the officially established Christian Church in England (the Church of England) as far as private chapels are concerned. Moreover, the remaining liability to rates is relatively low, in monetary terms.

The finding under Article 9 also led to rejection of the arguments under Article 1 of the first protocol) protection of property). On the facts of this case, the Court considered that the margin of appreciation to be afforded to the State in respect of those provisions would be similar to, if not more generous than, that afforded under Article 14 taken in conjunction with Article 9.

The case arguably is a further, fairly uncontroversial, step in the Court’s case-law on freedom of religious beliefs and ditto expression. The real tests will lie in challenges to bans on religious slaughter (schechita and halal; where European secondary law and international and European economic law have far the more immediate impact) and of course in bans on male circumcision.

Geert.

 

 

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