Tax avoidance has led to up to $32 trillion in lost revenues in banking systems across the world. Europe is home to many tax havens that offer advantageous environments for capital gains taxes, income taxes and corporate taxes. Tax havens have attracted large companies along with wealthy private investors who seek refuge from taxation policies in their home countries. Tax havens have been known to greatly reduce and eliminate taxes that would have otherwise been due by domestic tax authorities if not for their placement in offshore accounts.
London is Europe's tax haven capital for non-British individuals. The city's well-established banking systems are trusted and used by foreigners from nearly every country in the world. Small and large companies benefit from a relatively low 20% corporate tax. England is considered the epicenter of the remainder of the world's tax haven systems. Foundations and trusts are typical tax haven vehicles used by foreigners to offer a protective tax-free or tax-reduced wrapper around assets. England has been particularly popular with nondomiciled billionaires who benefit from a lack of income taxes or capital gains taxes on investments held outside of the country.
Foreign investors are freed from the burden of taxes on interest in Germany. The country retains the privacy of account holders. Foreign income is exempt from taxation whether it is in the form of dividends from foreign subsidiaries or income earned in foreign branches. Corporations benefit from Germany's tax environment as only 5% of dividends and capital gains have taxes levied against them. These classes of income are considered nondeductible operating expenditures according to German accounting standards.
Ireland is host to a business tax rate of 12.5%, and artists enjoy tax-free income. The country has been host to quite a few shadow corporations attempting to take advantage of the low tax environment. People claiming to live in Ireland but are not residents and hold a residence elsewhere are able to use its attractive tax environment. Ireland has a long history of offering low corporate tax rates to encourage foreign companies to relocate business on paper rather than physically. Dublin is home to the International Financial Services Centre, a financial center that has served as a deregulated haven to both individuals and businesses. Foreign investment into the International Financial Services Centre weighed in at $2.7 trillion in 2014.
Jersey receives funds from England as a mainstay in England's tax haven system. The crown dependency of Jersey operates under different financial transparency laws than most banking systems. Information on beneficial ownership is not made publicly available and neither is information on company financial accounts. Bank accounts in Jersey can be opened without initial deposits. On the tiny five-by-nine-mile island, each square mile is home to $5 billion of private wealth. Jersey is notorious for banking secrecy procedures, as well as general secrecy in matters of government and justice.
Business taxes in the Netherlands are very low, as are taxes on interest and licensing income. The tax policies in the Netherlands attracted $127 billion in 2010 from multinational companies. An astonishing 48% of Fortune 500 companies have created at least one limited company in the Netherlands. The Netherlands has boomed in corporate headquarters and subsidiaries for its treatment of multinational taxes. Tax exemptions called participation exemptions remove the tax burdens from dividends and capital gains that are accrued outside of the country. Royalties are also free from tax burdens in the Netherlands.
Former home to many anonymous banks that are no longer able to operate anonymously, Switzerland still serves as a popular tax haven, as the country adheres to secrecy in banking practices. The efforts of U.S. tax evasion investigators have not bumped Switzerland from the list of popular European tax havens. Russia has also identified Switzerland as an offshore jurisdiction that refuses to share banking information on account holders. The Financial Secrecy Index ranked Switzerland as the number-one tax haven in the world based on its banking secrecy procedures and the amount of its offshore business. Switzerland's enforcement of tax laws has been conspicuously absent. The country has a long history of hiding funds as it was the go-to hiding place for the upper class during the French Revolution.
Sweden has disposed of a number of taxes including inheritances taxes and gift taxes. Insurance bonds called Kapitalförsäkring serve as unique investment vehicles that may be used by Swedish residents and foreigners living in Sweden. The account allows individuals to avoid capital gains taxes. Though Sweden has not traditionally been viewed as a tax haven in Europe, changes to its tax codes and the introduction of the Kapitalförsäkring have helped modify the view of the country's potential as a tax haven for foreign investors.
Tax havens in Denmark are able to operate due to low transparency in information exchanges between tax authorities and banks. The real owner of a corporation or a foundation can be difficult to distinguish in Denmark, as is the case with limited partnerships.
Account holders in Austria are granted privacy in exchange for their funds, and Austrian bank accounts are popular with Germans. Austria's bond market is popular with foreign investors. Stringent banking secrecy earned the country a ranking of 24 on the Financial Secrecy Index.
German banks notoriously take advantage of Luxembourg's tax environment as the dividends of many companies are not taxed. Long-term capital gains on stocks are tax-exempt if a majority share is 10% or more is not held. By placing segments of business entities in Luxembourg, corporations worldwide have been able to cut huge tax bills from their expenses. Luxembourg has become so notable for its tax laws that much of the country's attractiveness for outside businesses is owed exclusively to these features, and Luxembourg's economy is partially built around the business gained from its tax structure. The country may be put at risk financially if it is no longer attractive to outside businesses for these reasons. European policymakers have demanded the country alter its tax structure to encourage corporate and consumer tax revenue.
See also, The Top 10 Caribbean Tax Havens.