Corporate - Group taxation

Last reviewed - 09 July 2020

If a parent holds more than 50% of the voting rights in a subsidiary having its place of management in Germany, the two may conclude a formal court-registered profit and loss pooling agreement (PLPA), which must be concluded for a period of at least five years. If certain conditions are fulfilled, the ensuing relationship is referred to as an Organschaft. Effectively, the annual results of an Organschaft are pooled at the level of the parent. The tax group subsidiary itself is only subject to tax with respect to 20/17 of the compensation payments made to outside minority shareholders, if applicable. Profits and losses within a group can therefore be offset, but there is no provision for the elimination of intra-group profits from the total tax base. It should also be noted that negative income of the parent or of the subsidiary incurred within an Organschaft is excluded from offset in the same or another year if a foreign country takes it into account in the taxation of an Organschaft member, or of any other entity.

The main conditions for a tax group for corporate tax/trade tax purposes are:

  • The subsidiary is financially integrated; in effect, the parent must have held the shares in the subsidiary without interruption from the beginning of its business year sufficient to give it a majority of the voting rights in the subsidiary.
  • The parent of an Organschaft must be an individual, a trading partnership, or a non-tax exempt corporation, association, or estate.
  • The investment in the subsidiary must, from a functional point of view, be attributable to a German branch of the parent, and the income of the branch must be subject to German tax and not be exempt under a DTT.
  • The subsidiary must be a corporation having its place of management in Germany and its registered seat in an EU/EEA member state.
  • The parent and the subsidiary must have concluded a qualifying profit and loss pooling agreement (PLPA) to run for at least five years and be consistently applied throughout the term of the agreement. Under the PLPA, the subsidiary surrenders its entire income to the parent. Conversely, the parent is obligated to compensate the losses incurred by the subsidiary throughout the term of the agreement.

Transfer pricing

Extensive rules on transfer pricing in respect of all transactions with foreign-related parties are in force. The basic principle is that all cross-border inter-company business transactions should be priced at arm's length. Failure to meet the extensive documentation requirements applicable exposes the company to serious risk of penalties as well as unfavourable estimates by the tax authorities, who have the right to exercise every possible leeway or margin to the taxpayer's disadvantage.

Germany has adjusted its transfer pricing documentation rules to meet the recommendations of the OECD BEPS Project. The taxpayer has to prepare documentation specific to the country and each business (local file) as well as a master file with information regarding the global business operations of the group. Furthermore, a so-called country-by-country reporting (CbCR) must be submitted if the group's revenues exceed EUR 750 million.

Documentation (local file and master file) need not be set up at the time of transaction nor in the course of a tax return, but only needs to be provided upon request during a tax audit. However, in case of extraordinary business transactions (e.g. restructurings, cost sharing, other material long-term agreements), documentation needs to be prepared within six months after the end of the business year in which the business transaction occurred (but again, it only needs to be provided upon request during a tax audit).

Usually, in preparation of a tax audit, the tax authorities request the relevant records/documentation. Upon request of the tax auditor, the documents must be furnished within 60 days of the request or, in case of extraordinary business transactions, within 30 days.

The CbCR has to be submitted within one year after the end of the respective business year.

According to the Federal Ministry of Finance's draft bill for the transposition of the EU ATAD into German law, published in December 2019, several changes to the German transfer pricing rules are expected. The proposed new rules concern the interpretation of the arm's-length principle and provide for changes to the German Foreign Tax Act and the German Fiscal Code.

Thin capitalisation

There are no thin capitalisation rules as such; their substitute is the 'interest limitation' to, basically, 30% of EBITDA discussed in the Deductions section.

Controlled foreign companies (CFCs)

Pursuant to the German CFC taxation rules regulated in the Foreign Tax Act (FTA - Außensteuergesetz), certain low-taxed (less than 25%) income, referred to as passive income generated by a CFC, shall be subject to German tax at the level of the German shareholder, provided the CFC is deemed to be a so-called intermediate company (Zwischengesellschaft) and the German ownership criterion is fulfilled.

Passive income generated by a CFC that qualifies as an intermediate company will be attributed to the German shareholder regardless of whether it is actually distributed or not (CFC income). The CFC income is subject to German corporation tax and trade tax.

EU/EEA subsidiaries will not be qualified as an intermediate company if a so-called motive test is fulfilled (i.e. the German shareholders prove that the specific income is derived from a genuine economic activity performed in the state of residence of the CFC).

Due to the transposition of the EU ATAD into German law changes to the CFC rules are expected (inter alia, the tax treatment of the CFC's dividend income). The reduction of the threshold of 25% (see above) has been a matter of great debate  in Germany but has to date not been included in the draft bill, which was published by the Federal Ministry of Finance in December 2019.