There is a framed football shirt hanging on my son’s wall. It is half blue, half white – the blue half sporting the insignia of the Israel Football Association and the white half the Three Lions of England. Scrawled in indelible marker across the English half is the inscription “Good Luck, Bobby Charlton” ( for the benefit of American readers -and absolutely NOBODY else on earth – Sir Bobby Charlton is to English football what Babe Ruth was to American baseball).
My son is part of an ever growing phenomenon in the modern global village- the dual citizen. The Economist ran an article last week questioning the continued relevance of citizenship as a basis for a person’s rights and responsibilities vis a vis a particular country given the almost ad hoc way in which citizenship can be acquired. The recommendation, in a world where the military draft is becoming increasingly rare, was for tax residence to supersede citizenship.
Hallelujah! If you have been wondering what we international tax advisors are going to do for a living when the European Union institutes the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB) and the US Congress adopts a Territorial Tax Basis – we are saved! As soon as The Economist’s proposals are accepted by the world’s legislatures anybody wanting to do whatever citizens do in a country will need to prove tax residence, and that means fees.
At a cursory glance the concept of residence looks fairly consistent internationally – many countries insisting that, if an individual spends over 183 days (six months in plain speech) within their borders, they are resident. But, as the Eagles said: “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave” – in addition to differing applications of the 183 day rule between a single tax year and straddling two tax years, nation after nation traps individuals with further multi-year calculations as well as a host of additional tests that point in only one direction – the national piggy-bank. Warring tax authorities are forced into the tie-breaker clause in the double tax treaty they hopefully concluded earlier and, given the subjective nature of some of the tests, they often end up fighting it out around a negotiating table.
What does all this mean for this brilliant alternative to citizenship? Fast forward to 2015. Giovanni, the Italian plumber we met a few posts back who is now working under Single Market rules in the UK, turns up at his local Town (City) Hall on March 15, to register to vote in the upcoming General Election. The clerk asks for proof of his days present in the UK since last April 5 (the potty fiscal year end there). Giovanni proves 200 days but the clerk, after calling the tax residence hot line, points out that in calendar year 2014 he was probably still resident in Italy under Italian law since he was present there for 239 days in the calendar (fiscal) year, and, it was as yet unclear, whether he would be similarly classified in 2015 depending on future circumstances. He tells him to go and get a tax opinion. Giovanni, who despite being a plumber is not flush with cash, tells the clerk that he cannot afford an opinion. “In that case”, the clerk informs him, “We can approach the Italian authorities and institute Mutual Agreement Procedures under the tax treaty”. Being Italian, Giovanni has an inbred aversion to tax authorities, especially those he has not been reporting to for the last thirty years, so he scrams fast – internationally disenfranchised.
Then there is the situation of tax exiles. On the assumption that, as long as there is tax there will be tax exiles, in a world of economic growth their numbers are likely to increase. So it would seem quite possible that, in the foreseeable future, Monaco and Andorra could become so popular that one or both of them could claim a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council.
Personally, if there is a need to change the current system, I would go for pledge of support to a national football team. When push comes to shove everybody only really supports one team and, although I have never asked my son whether he is for England or Israel, I do recall taking his older brother to an Israel v Argentina game in the early nineties with Diego Maradona playing (Americans -ask your friends). There was almost a riot between Argentine fans and Israeli fans – ironically the Argentinian contingent being made up almost exclusively of people who had fled the Junta in the early eighties and sought and found refuge in Israel.
And if you think there is anything trivial about the football idea, Bill Shankly,the legendary manager of Liverpool famously said: “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.”