On October 9, 2018, the French National Assembly adopted at first reading, the draft PACTE law (Action Plan for Business Growth and Transformation).
Among the many measures in the draft law, some are aimed at reinforcing the development of a social and solidarity-based economy.
1- Simplifying conditions of access to “Social and Solidarity-based Enterprise” (ESUS) accreditation
Since July 1, 2015, companies can receive a “Social and Solidarity-based Enterprise” (ESUS) accreditation for a five-year period (or a two-year period for companies under 3 years old).
To be eligible for the ESUS accreditation, a company must meet the following criteria:
- – Pursue “social benefit” as its main objective (provide support to vulnerable people, contribute to combatting exclusion or inequality, take part in sustainable development, energy transition or international solidarity);
- – Prove that the burden generated by the company’s social benefit objective has a significant impact on its profit and loss account or its financial profitability;
- – Adhere to a compensation policy meeting two requirements: the average of the compensations paid, including bonuses, to the 5 highest-paid employees or managers must not exceed a yearly limit capped at 7 times the monthly minimum wage (SMIC) and the salary for the highest-paid employee must not exceed a yearly limit capped at 10 times the minimum wage (SMIC);
- – Equity securities issued by the company cannot be traded on financial markets.
For ESUS-eligible entities, the measure is aimed at facilitating access to equity capital funding, either through tax breaks (such as the IR-PME scheme), which individuals investing in such entities benefit from, or through the obligation made to funds fiscally encouraged to meet certain investment quotas in the entities concerned.
Article 29 of the draft PACTE law proposes to introduce the following improvements to the ESUS accreditation measure:
- – Facilitate access to accreditation, by clarifying the definition of “social benefit” in particular for activities related to ecological transition, cultural promotion and national solidarity;
- – Simplify the modalities for assessing the impact of social benefit activities on the business model of the companies applying for accreditation;
- – Eliminate the obligation to include the wage caps in the company statutes, and standardise the application of those caps to all eligible companies.
The possibility of setting up an online accreditation procedure is also being discussed.
2- Taking into account a company’s social and environmental aspects
Article 61 of the draft PACTE law proposes to modify Articles 1833 and 1835 of the Civil Code as follows:
- – Article 1833 with: “The company shall be managed in its social interest and taking the social and environmental aspects of its activity into consideration.”
- – Article 1835 with: “The articles of association may specify the purpose, consisting of the principles held by the company and in observance of which it intends to allocate resources for the conduct of its activity.”
The modifications are aimed at contributing to a much stronger integration of environmental law in the company governance, by highlighting the activity of companies with a genuine commitment to sustainable development.
Nevertheless, the question arises as to what extent a lack of knowledge of these obligations will create a risk of incurring liability for the company directors concerned.
The draft PACTE law will be examined by a Senate committee as from January 2019. We will keep you informed of the conditions for the effective implementation of the new measures.
Within the framework of the next finance and social security Bill , several reforms are bound to have an impact on taxes in France for non-residents.
Overview of the main measures foreseen:
Exemption of capital gains tax on sale of main residence after departure abroad
As of today, a tax resident in France who sells his main residence is not taxed on the capital gain made on that sale.
However, a non-resident who sells the property that was his main residence before his departure abroad is not exempt from that capital gains tax but can only benefit, under certain conditions, from a one-time tax allowance of €150,000.
The draft Finance Bill for 2019 (PLF 2019) foresees an alignment between the tax systems applicable to residents and non-residents regarding capital gains made on their main residence.
Consequently, a non-resident who sells the property that was his main residence in France at the time of his departure abroad would not be taxed on the capital gains made, subject to the dual condition that:
– The sale was concluded at the latest on December 31st of the year following the year of the tax residence transfer (to another country); and
– The property was not placed at the disposal of a third party, whether for a fee or free of charge, between the transfer of residence and the sale.
Possible exemption of social levies on capital income
Currently, in France, non-residents are subject to social levies (including, in particular, CSG, CRDS and solidarity levy), at the rate of 17.2% on their French-earned income from property and capital gains on real estate.
The draft finance bill on social security for 2019 provides that the people affiliated with a mandatory social security system in another member state of the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland will not be subject to CSG and CRDS in France on capital income but the solidarity levy, whose rate would be increased to 7.5 %, would remain due.
Nevertheless, that exemption would not concern people having established residence outside of the EEA or Switzerland, and who would therefore remain subject to social charges in France on capital income.
Various changes in tax modalities of France-sourced income
The PLF 2019 provides for various measures aimed at bringing the tax system on non-resident income closer in line with the system applied to tax residents in France.
First of all, French-earned salaries, pensions and life annuity rents paid to non-residents are currently subject to a specific deduction at source, partially discharging tax on income, as specified in Article 182A of the French Tax Code (CGI).
As from January 1, 2020, that deduction at source would be eliminated and replaced by a flat, non-discharging deduction at source calculated by applying the tax rate by default used for the withholding tax on resident income.
In addition, starting with taxes on income earned in 2018, the minimum tax rate applicable to France-sourced income of non-residents will rise:
– From 20% to 30% in Metropolitan France; and
– From 14.4% to 25% for income whose source is in the French Overseas Departments (DOM).
Of course, taxpayers can still request the application of the average tax rate to their France-sourced income, resulting from the application of the progressive tax brackets to the whole of their foreign- and France-sourced income, if it is lower than the minimum rate mentioned above.
Lastly, the PLF 2019 provides that, starting with taxes on 2018 income, non-residents can deduct the alimony paid out, on condition that it is taxed in France and that it has not already entitled the taxpayer to a tax break in his Country of residence.
To be continued when voted on in late December…
On October 9, 2018, the French National Assembly adopted, at first reading, the PACTE bill (Action Plan for Business Growth and Transformation).
Among the many measures in the bill, whose objective is to lower the obligations that weigh on companies, Article 55 is aimed at reinforcing the framework of foreign investments in France.
The current regime
Foreign investments in France are free as a matter of principle (Article L.151-1 of the Monetary and Financial Code). Nevertheless, investments in certain sectors, considered strategic, are subject to prior authorisation from the Minister of Economy (Article L.151-3 of the Monetary and Financial Code).
The authorisation procedure, established in 2005 and strengthened in 2014, currently concerns investments that foreigners wish to make in France and which might infringe upon public order, public security or the interests of national defence.
Initially, the list of sectors was narrow: gambling, private security, counterterrorism, equipment designed for wiretapping, IT security, companies entrusted with national defence secrets, weapons trade, companies dealing with the Defence Ministry.
However, in 2014, the list of sectors concerned was extended to also target energy and water supply, transportation and electronic communications networks, vital infrastructures and facilities as defined by the Defence Code, as well as the public health sector.
In the abovementioned sectors, a foreign investor must make a request to the Minister of Economy for an authorisation to invest. Once the audit has been made, the Minister can: (i) authorise the investment, (ii) deny the investment, if the investor is likely to commit a series of offences or if the investment risks infringing on national interests, or (iii) authorise the investment subject to certain conditions aimed at ensuring that the planned investment does not infringe on national interests.
In the event that the investor does not comply with the Minister’s decision, the latter may request the investor “not to follow through with the operation, to modify it or to re-establish the former situation at the investor’s expense“.
If that demand is not complied with, financial sanctions may be imposed, the amount of which may go up to “twice the amount of the irregular investment“.
The PACTE bill
The two main changes foreseen by the PACTE bill are as follows:
- 1. Extension of the business sectors concerned so as to better protect promising sectors. The list of activities would thus be extended to semi-conductors, the space industry, drones, and if related to national security, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, robotics and mass data storage.
- 2. Stronger sanctions. The Minister will have a wider, more calibrated range of sanctions since he will be able, in the event of non-compliance with his decision and the conditions imposed on the investment, to define additional conditions not provided in the initial agreement or even order the investor to honour his commitments, subject to penalties. The Minister will also be able to take protective measures such as the suspension of voting rights or the investor’s right to receive dividends, or he can appoint an agent commissioned to ensure the protection of national interests within the company.
The regime of financial sanctions will also be modified. The fine determined by the Minister will not be able to exceed the highest of the following amounts: twice the amount of the irregular investment, 10% of the target company’s yearly turnover, €1 million for individuals and €5 million for legal entities.
The PACTE bill will be examined by a Senate committee as from January 2019. We will keep you informed of the conditions for the effective implementation of the new measures having a direct impact on foreign take-over operations of a French company.
For the past several months, French legislators (deputies) have sought to implement a tax break on transfers by gift or inheritance.
To this end, last May, legislators introduced a bill mainly aimed at increasing the tax allowance beyond which an inheritance or a gift is taxed, raising it from €100,000 to €159,325.
Those legislators also proposed to apply tax allowances every 10 years instead of every 15 years as is currently the case in effect.
Although the bill has not been voted on, it now seems to have little chance of being passed.
In answering two ministerial questions raised, the French Government expressed its intention of not changing those tax rules.
As per the increase of the current €100,000-allowance, the Ministry of Economy and Finance considers that the amount is “very close to the median net assets of all households, which, according to the INSEE, reached €113,900 per household in early 2015” and “that, on its own, it results in a very large majority of transfers being tax exempt“.
As for the time period related to past gifts, the Ministry considers that the current time period is adequate, and as a reminder points out that “contrary to the sentiment expressed by (public) opinion, over three-fourths of inheritances are exempt from the payment of gift or inheritance tax.”
It is therefore in the best interest of taxpayers with a substantial estate to plan the transfer of their assets to their descendants in advance.
On June 21, 2018, the French Senate finally adopted the Bill aimed at transposing European Directive 2016/943 on trade secrets adopted by the European Parliament in June 2016 and introducing a new Title V in the French Commercial Code entitled “Protection of Trade Secrets”.
The text in the reform is aimed at protecting company know-how and information against industrial espionage and unfair competition, regardless of their size or field of business.
Companies should adopt good practices in compliance with these new regulations as of now:
1. Information covered by the protection
Trade secrets deal with information of various types such as technical, commercial, accounting and financial, or strategic data.
In order to be considered a trade secret and be covered by the new protection regime, information must meet the following three requirements. It must:
– be secret, i.e. not readily accessible by the public,
– have commercial value,
– be the subject of reasonable protective measures, such as pre-contractual or contractual measures or personnel awareness measures.
2. Acts considered as an infringement of trade secrets
If the abovementioned prerequisites are all met, the law makes it possible to object to access, use and disclosure of the protected information as well as punish the perpetrator whose conduct was unfair or who must have been aware, under the circumstances, of the illicit character of his/her act(s).
The perpetrator having committed acts constituting direct infringement of the trade secret shall be civilly liable according to the terms of Article L. 152-1 of the Bill and may be sentenced to pay damages if the infringement of the information occurred without the legitimate holder’s consent.
With regard to any person who imported, exported, produced or marketed products reproducing secret know-how, the reform provides stronger protection compared to the current regime since it makes it possible, in particular, to punish that person even if s/he did not personally participate in the misappropriation of the know-how, provided it can be proven that s/he knew, or ought to have known, of the fraudulent origin of the information. To that end, it will be possible to send a letter of warning to the perpetrator beforehand “informing of potential infringement”.
3. Additional exceptions to the protection
In view of the criticism targeting the European Directive, regarding the violation of the right to freedom of expression, the national legislator decided to extend the situations in which trade secrecy cannot be raised.
While, in accordance with the European Directive, Article L. 151-7 of the Bill provides that trade secrecy cannot be raised when “acquisition, use or disclosure of the secret is required or allowed by European Union or national law”, Article L. 151-8 of the Bill adds an additional exception for situations in which acquisition of the information took place “within the framework of the exercise by employees or their representatives of their right to information and consultation”.
In a ruling dated 13th June 2018 (CE plén. 13-6-2018 n° 395495), the Council of State has finally clarified the notion of an “active holding company,” which it defines as a company: “whose principal activity, in addition to managing a portfolio of investments, is to play an active role in the management of the group’s policy and the running of its subsidiaries and, where relevant and on a strictly internal basis, the provision of specific administrative, legal, accounting, financial and property services.”
Before the 13th June ruling, only the Cour of Cassation have issued a definition of active holding companies. The Council of State’s definition builds on the definition issued by the Cour of Cassation, adding that management must be the company’s “principal” activity.
As such, companies with non-controlling minority shares in businesses may qualify for “active holding company” status.
Furthermore, the Council of State mentions a certain number of factual elements to be used to prove “active holding” status, notably including:
– Minutes from meetings of the company’s board of directors attesting their involvement in the management of their subsidiaries’ policies; or else
– The existence of a contract for administrative and strategy and development support, specifying that the holding company will play an active role in the strategy and development of its subsidiaries, without compromising their respective autonomy as legal entities.
Order n°2016-1635 dated 1 December 2016 required companies, other than those whose securities are admitted to trading on a regulated market, to declare their beneficial owners with the registry of the Commercial Court where their head office is located.
Decree n° 2018-284 dated 18 April 2018 was created to clarify the system for declaring beneficial owners. These clarifications came into effect on 21 April 2018.
The two following provisions of the decree should be highlighted:
1. The definition of the “supervisory power” exercised by the beneficial owner
Before 21 April 2018, article R. 561-1 of the French Monetary and Financial Code indicated that the beneficial owner of a company was the natural person:
– Either directly or indirectly holding more than 25% capital or voting rights in the company;
– Or exercising, via any other means, a supervisory power over managing, administrative or executive bodies of the company or over the general meeting of shareholders.
The new decree specifies the notion of “supervisory power” and amends article R. 561-1 of the French Monetary and Financial code to this end.
As of 21 April 2018, the supervisory power is now defined “within parts 3 and 4 of section I of article L. 233-3 of the French Commercial Code”.
The notion of “supervisory power” is thus clarified and a natural person shall be considered as fulfilling the review criterion in the two following cases:
– Either, he/she determines, via the voting rights in his/her possession, the decisions in the company’s general meeting (article L. 233-3, I, part 3);
– Or, he/she is a member or shareholder of the company and holds the power to appoint or to remove a majority of members of the administrative, executive or supervisory bodies of this company (article L. 233-3, I, part 4).
2. The default beneficiary owner
Before 21 April 2018, the texts did not indicate how to process a case where it is impossible to identify a natural person as a beneficial owner on the basis of criteria established in the first paragraph of article R. 561-1 of the French Monetary and Financial Code.
From 21 April 2018, the registry practice has been enshrined in the new decree. Article R. 561-1 now specifies that, when no natural person can be identified, the beneficial owner is the natural person or persons or, if the company is not registered in France their equivalent under foreign law, who legally represents the company, namely;
a) The manager or managers of partnerships, limited partnerships, limited liability companies, limited stock partnerships and civil societies;
b) The managing director of limited companies with a board of directors;
c) The sole managing director or the chairman of the board of limited companies with a board of directors and a supervisory board;
d) The President and, if needed, the managing director of simplified joint stock companies.
If the legal representatives mentioned in letter a) or letter d) are legal persons, the beneficial owner is the natural person or persons who legally represent these legal persons.
Even if the companies concerned by this obligation are presumed to have submitted their declaration by 1 April 2018 at the latest, the new aforementioned rules shall apply for the filing of any corrective statement required in the event of amendment to the initially declared beneficial owners resulting in a change to the shareholding or control of the company.