29 May 2008

Discriminatory taxes on lottery and betting winning: European Commission files suit against Spain

Action brought on 15 April 2008 - Commission of the European Communities v Kingdom of Spain

Case C-153/08


Applicant: Commission of the European Communities (represented by: R. Lyal and L. Lozano Palacios, acting as Agents)

Defendant: Kingdom of Spain

Form of order sought

The applicant claims that the Court should:

declare that, by maintaining in force fiscal legislation taxing winnings from all types of lotteries, games and betting organised outside the Kingdom of Spain, whereas winnings obtained from certain lotteries, games and betting organised within the Kingdom of Spain are exempted from income tax, the Kingdom of Spain has failed to fulfil its obligations under Community law and, in particular, under Article 49 EC and Article 36 of the Agreement on the European Economic Area;

order the Kingdom of Spain to pay the costs.

Pleas in law and main arguments

Under Spanish legislation, winnings from lotteries and betting organised by Loterías y Apuestas del Estado (the Spanish public-law body in charge of lotteries and betting) or by bodies or entities of the Comunidades Autónomas (Autonomous Communities), and winnings from lotteries organised by the Spanish Red Cross or the Organización Nacional de Ciegos Españoles (Spanish national association for the blind) are exempt from income tax. However, income from lotteries, games or betting organised by other national bodies or by foreign bodies, including those established in Member States of the European Union or the European Economic Area, is added to the taxable amount and subject to progressive rates of taxation.

Relying in particular on Lindman and Safir, the Commission points out that, according to that line of authority, the organising of lotteries is to be regarded as a "service" for the purposes of the Treaty. Also according to that case-law, Article 49 EC prohibits any restriction on the freedom to provide services, or any obstacle to that freedom - even where such a restriction or obstacle applies equally to national providers of services and to those of the other Member States - and precludes the application of any rule of national law the effect of which is to make it more difficult to provide services between Member States than to provide services wholly within a particular Member State. Given the particular features of the gaming sector, the case-law accepts certain restrictions imposed by Member States, provided that such measures can be shown to be appropriate and proportionate, as well as non-discriminatory.

The Commission maintains that the Spanish legislation is discriminatory because the exemption is reserved for certain entities which that legislation defines precisely, and entities of other Member States, albeit of the same nature and in pursuit of the same objectives as the Spanish entities specified in the exemption rule, are excluded from the benefit of that exemption. Accordingly, even if the Spanish authorities had shown, in the course of the infringement proceedings, that the legislation at issue is a measure which is appropriate and proportionate to the stated objective of protecting consumers and public order - which they have failed to do - the legislation at issue could not in any circumstances be regarded as compatible with Community law, in so far as it is wholly discriminatory.

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