2020, thanks to Covid, will be remembered as a golden year for Amazon: the European branch of the e-commerce giant has not only reached a record turnover of 44 billion euros but will be able to manage the difficult task of not even paying a cent to the tax authorities of Luxembourg, the country in which it is based. The revelation was made by the British newspaper Guardian and immediately aroused the reaction of the EU which, even in the soft language of diplomacy, announces a communication on tax avoidance and captures the an opportunity to relaunch the issue of global corporate taxation. All this while an appeal in Brussels against Amazon and the Grand Duchy for the granting of 250 million tax advantages deemed illegal is still pending before the Court of Justice. And with regard to taxes, Amazon replies: our profits remained low as a result of large investments.
A record year
According to the Guardian, which examined the 2020 financial statements filed by Jeff Bezos’ company, the European headquarters of Amazon reported revenues of 44 billion euros; this is a leap forward from the previous year of about 12 billion. Consequence of the lockdown and the collapse of retail sales across Europe which have consequently favored online commerce. The European branch of Amazon is responsible for the sales made in Italy, France, Germany, Holland, Spain, Poland and Sweden; but the tax office is located in Luxembourg, a country that has traditionally been broad-minded in terms of taxes. And here begins the most complex part of the accounts presented by the web giant.
From 44 billion in revenues to 1.2 billion in losses
Despite the 44 billion in revenues, in fact, Amazon closed the accounts of 2020 presenting losses of 1.2 billion euros; a red that should guarantee a tax credit of 56 million and which is added to other tax discounts agreed between the managers of Bezos and the tax authorities of the Grand Duchy. Upon drawing the sums it turned out that the company did not have to pay anything to the tax coffers. Since 2017, however, the guardians of the EU and Luxembourg have been in dispute over 250 million in concessions granted to Amazon and deemed undue. Brussels has ordered Luxembourg to have those 250 million returned, but the small state is resisting.
Amazon: Huge investments with us
On the 2020 budget, Amazon’s reply has also arrived, according to the voice of its press office: Amazon pays all the required taxes in each country in which it operates – here is the official position -. Corporate tax is based on profits, not revenue, and our profits have remained low as a result of our large investments and the fact that retail is a highly competitive and low-margin business. We have invested well over 78 billion euros in Europe since 2010 and much of that investment in infrastructure that creates many thousands of new jobs, generates significant local tax revenues. We now have 60 logistics centers, over 100 corporate offices and development centers and over 135,000 full-time employees across Europe. And there are over 100,000 third-party sellers based in the EU.
The EU reaction and the web tax
The first reaction to the news reported by the British press came from the EU Commission. Community sources say: we do not go into details. Generally speaking, the Commission has adopted a very ambitious agenda on taxation and against tax fraud, and we will publish a communication in the coming weeks. The EU has for some time engaged in discussions with international partners to reach a global minimum tax that avoids downward tax competition and contrasts tax evasion havens. In this battle, Europe has found a side in the USA by Joe Biden. After Trump had for years threatened retaliation against states that had taxed the giants of the web, the new administration has given a paradigm shift: the head of the Treasury Janet Yellen has announced its intention to arrive at a web tax on the profits of the giants digital.