Italy to push for EU consensus on e-books and print books VAT rates

Thu 9th Oct 2014

Italy has indicated that it will push for agreement for reduced VAT rates on e-books, to bring it into line with print books, during its presidency of the European Union.

Currently, the EU VAT Directive permits the use of reduced VAT rates on print books to subsidise local culture and promote reading. However, it is silent on electronic books since they have been developed relatively recently.

Most EU countries therefore currently charge their higher, standard VAT rates on e-books. However, France and Luxembourg have broken ranks, and classified e-books at the same reduced rates as books – 5.5% and 3%, respectively for the two countries.

This has put them into confrontation with countries like the UK and Germany which do not wish to lower their VAT revenues. Under pressure from these two countries, the European Commission in 2013 took France and then Luxembourg to the European Court of Justice to force them to raise their VAT rates on e-books. Both cases are still pending.

However, a recent ruling by the European Court of Justice on books VAT rate (K Oy C-219/13) question from Finland appeared to open the argument that if consumers see good delivered by differing methods (paper vs. memory sticks in this case) as the same supply, then differing VAT rates should not be applied.  This may be interpreted in the future to mean the same for e-books and paper books.

Italy will follow Poland in an attempt to gain support on this measure through its presidency which runs until the end of December 2014.