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The Council is currently working on a proposal to amend the existing EU VAT directive in order to allow member states to apply, if they so wish, lower VAT rates to e-publications such as electronic books, newspapers and periodicals.

The draft proposal is part of the EU's wider effort to modernise value added tax for the digital economy in the context of the EU's digital single market strategy.

The Council aims to reach agreement on the proposal in May 2017.

Why was the proposal made?

In most EU countries, e-publications are charged a standard VAT rate (a minimum of 15%). In contrast, publications on physical media can benefit from significantly lower rates, which may sometimes be reduced to 0%.

The amended EU VAT rules would contribute to the EU's pursuit of its digital single market strategy and, more broadly, help it to keep pace with technological progress in the digital economy.

Key elements of the draft amended directive

The proposal requires amendments to two articles and annex III of the current EU VAT directive (2006/112/EC). In essence, the amendments refer to the format of the publications to which the reduced VAT rate could be applied.

The draft amendment also specifies that "the supply of pure music and video content would continue to be taxed at the standard VAT rate".

According to the proposal, the standard rate would also continue to apply to publications that "predominantly" consist of music and video content. Member states would have the discretion to specify the term "predominantly" in their national VAT law. This solution would allow member states to continue to apply a reduced rate to audio books, audio newspapers and periodicals for people with sight loss.

Legislative procedure

Since the directive is in the area of taxation, the special legislative procedure applies. Under this procedure, the Council adopts legal acts after consulting the European Parliament.

At the Council

2017

16 June

Council discusses a compromise proposal on VAT for electronic publications

On 16 June, the Economic and Financial Affairs Council discussed the compromise proposal by the Council presidency on the new VAT rules, with a view to reaching an agreement (the Council general approach), however, the agreement could not be reached. 

It will be expected in the second half of 2017.

Council discusses a proposal on reduced VAT rates for electronic publications, 16 June 2017

21 March

Council debates the proposal on VAT rates for e-publications

At the Economic and Financial Affairs Council meeting ministers held an orientation debate on the proposal to introduce the application of reduced VAT rates to electronic publications.

The discussion focused on the possibility of applying not only 'reduced' VAT rates, but also 'super-reduced' and 'zero' VAT rates to e-publications.

The Working Party on Tax Questions will continue its work on the proposal in the light of ministers' remarks.

Economic and Financial Affairs Council discusses a proposal for reduced VAT rates for e-publications, 21 March 2017

2016

14 December

Council's Working Party on Tax Questions starts working on the proposal

The Council's preparatory body - the Working Party on Tax Questions - started working on the proposal.

1 December

Commission issues the proposal to amend the EU VAT directive

The European Commission issued a proposal for a Council directive amending directive 2006/112/EC as regards rates of value added tax applied to books, newspapers and periodicals.

The proposal is part of the VAT digital single market package, which, in addition to the proposal on e-publications, contains legislative initiatives that aim to:

  • facilitate cross-border trade
  • combat VAT fraud
  • ensure fair competition for EU businesses

25 May

Council invites the Commission to issue a proposal on VAT for e-publications

The Council adopted conclusions on the Action Plan on VAT which invite the European Commission to present, by the end of 2016, a legislative proposal that would integrate provisions concerning VAT rates for e-publications in the context of digital single market initiatives.