Europe wants big companies to come clean about their taxes

EU targets tax-avoiding companies
EU targets tax-avoiding companies

Corporate tax loopholes are closing fast.

European regulators could soon start forcing big international companies to reveal their earnings and tax bills in each of the 28 European Union countries.

The European Commission is considering making it mandatory for multinationals to publicly disclose the country-by-country information in order to clamp down on corporate tax avoidance.

The bloc wants to make sure companies pay taxes where they make profits, rather than funnel their earnings through low-tax countries.

Previous proposals suggested companies send the details to tax authorities only. The EU executive is finalizing the proposal, looking into its impact on competitiveness. That's because many big companies oppose the idea, saying it would harm their business.

Related: End of the road for corporate tax cheats?

U.S. officials are critical about Europe's attempts to impose tougher tax rules on some of the biggest American companies.

Treasury official Robert Stack called the steps taken by Europe "deeply problematic," and said he was concerned that the European Commission appeared to be specifically targeting U.S. companies. He publicly questioned "basic fairness" of the process, after meeting with top EU officials last month.

Related: 'Days are numbered' for tax loopholes

The proposal, which should be finalized in March, is the latest attempt from the European Union to crack down on corporate tax avoidance.

The European Parliament estimates that up to 70 billion euros ($76 billion) is lost in Europe each year because companies avoid paying taxes using various legal loopholes. Globally, the amount comes to $240 billion per year.

EU member states will now be able to charge corporate taxes even if companies transfer their profits elsewhere. That's a common practice for multinational companies operating across Europe. They establish headquarters in low tax countries, such as Ireland or Luxembourg, and then funnel most of their European profits through there.

Many big U.S. tech companies have recently found themselves paying more taxes in Europe. Google (GOOG) has agreed to pay £130 million ($185 million) in the U.K. to cover unpaid taxes since 2005, following an audit by British tax authorities.

Apple (AAPL) has agreed to pay 318 million euros ($344 million) to Italy for years of unpaid taxes, according to Italian authorities, and Amazon (AMZN) in May agreed to pay more taxes after funneling its sales through Luxembourg's low-tax Grand Duchy.

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