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Western European economies saddled with tax burden 40% higher than the global average

Low tax centres Dubai and Singapore hoping to lure high value industries from ‘Old Europe’

Western European countries are inhibiting their economies with tax burdens at least 40% heavier than both the global average and the average for neighbouring countries in Central and Eastern Europe, according to research by UHY, the international accounting and consultancy network.

In the ‘Old European’ economies of Western Europe the total amount of tax taken by governments is an average of 38.9% of GDP, 40% higher than the 27.8% global average and higher still than the 25.9% average tax burden across Eastern Europe and the Balkans. 

In the BRIC economies the proportion of the economy claimed by the Government in tax is even lower, at an average of 21.7%, while the US Government’s ‘take’ from the economy is below the global average at 25.4% 

UHY examined 53 economies around the world, calculating what percentage of that country’s GDP is taken by the Government in tax.

Oil-rich Nigeria has one of lowest tax burdens of any major economy at 1.6% of GDP, even lower than in the UAE, where government levies on foreign oil producers, banks and some hotel and leisure businesses account for 2.7% of the Emirates’ combined GDP. 

The highest tax burden in the study was in Denmark, where the total amount of tax revenue taken equates to nearly half of the country’s GDP at 48.6%.

UHY says that Western Europe’s higher taxes on businesses, individuals, investors and consumer spending could all inhibit growth.  Higher taxes reduce incentives for investment and wealth creation, and prompt larger businesses to maximise returns for their investors by seeking out lower tax bases for their operations. 

In particular, Western Europe’s economies could be vulnerable to international rivals that are increasingly able to offer a combination of stable legal systems and highly skilled workforces. 

For example, the UAE and Singapore with tax burdens of 2.7% and 15% respectively are enjoying significant success in attracting corporate headquarters and professional and financial services companies, all creators of high skill, highly paid jobs. 

The Dubai International Financial Services has grown in the last 10 years to 1,100 companies, 70% of which originate from outside the Middle East, while Singapore is now home to over 200 banks and has growing expertise in other high value sectors including pharmaceuticals and medical technology.

Eastern European and Balkan countries are focussing on developing their industrial and manufacturing industries, offering lower taxes and lower costs than traditional Western European centres.  For example, Romania enjoyed 2.9% GDP growth last year, largely driven by expansion in its industrial and communications sectors.  It is becoming a growing centre for the auto manufacturing industry, with Daimler, Ford and Draexlmaier all choosing Romania over Germany for new plants in recent years.

Comments Ladislav Hornan, Chairman of UHY: “Unless they address their tax burdens, many Western European countries could find themselves pinched between lower cost, lower tax Eastern European countries that are able to offer equally strong manufacturing skills bases, and global cities like Singapore, Dubai and Qatar, that are consciously targeting the industries that create the most wealth.”

UHY point out that within Western Europe, Ireland, has the lowest tax burden at 28.3% of GDP.  Its lower taxes are a key part of its strategy of attracting high value industries such as financial services and technology companies. Dublin’s International Financial Services Centre is estimated to contribute over 7% of GDP with 35,000 employees, while Ireland is a major European base for 9 of the top 10 global software companies.

Comments Alan Farrelly of UHY Farrelly Dawe White Limited in Ireland: “While still relatively high by global standards, Ireland’s tax burden is significantly lower than in most of Western Europe.  This is strategy that appears to be paying off: the Irish economy grew by 4.8% in 2014, the fastest rate in the EU, and Ireland is attracting significant levels of foreign investment – it is the number one destination for US foreign direct investment.”

UHY adds that the BRIC economies impose bigger tax burdens than other, smaller emerging economies, which could see emerging markets investors looking beyond the BRICS for growth.  Tax amounts to an average of 21.7% of the BRIC economies, compared to 15.1% across the lower income emerging economies** in the study.

Adds Ladislav Hornan: “Analysts have been keen to coin all sorts of rival acronyms to the BRICs, and one reason may be that the tax burden in the BRICs, especially Brazil, is relatively high.” 

“For China, as economic growth starts to slow and the country gradually loses its cost advantage, especially compared with other Asian countries, the conundrum of whether and how to lower the tax burden will start to loom larger.”

**Nigeria, UAE, Puerto Rico, Egypt, Guatemala, Bangladesh, Peru, Singapore, Malaysia, Argentina, Romania, Croatia, Uruguay, Jamaica, Barbados



*Lower income emerging economies include: Nigeria, UAE, Puerto Rico, Egypt, Guatemala, Bangladesh, Peru, Singapore, Malaysia, Argentina, Romania, Croatia, Uruguay, Jamaica, Barbados


Notes for Editors

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