In March 2015, Belgium notified the European Commission of the extension of a support scheme for maritime transport, which had in 2004 been authorized until 2012. The aim of this fiscal measure is to encourage shipping companies to register their ships in Europe and thus to ensure higher social, environmental and safety standards. Such measures may be authorized in accordance with the Commission’s guidelines on State aid to maritime transport.
During the procedure, the Commission applied modifications to the former scheme to prevent discrimination between shipping companies and registries from different European Economic Area (“EEA”) States and to avoid excessive distortion of competition.
The Belgian scheme provides that a shipping company is taxed according to ship tonnage rather than the actual profits of the company. This tonnage taxation is applied to a shipping company's core revenues from shipping activities such as cargo and passenger transport, certain ancillary revenues that are closely connected to shipping activities, which are now capped at a maximum of 50% of a ship's operating revenues, and, in some cases, revenues from towage, dredging and onshore ship management activities.
This taxation scheme is applied on the condition that the shipping company operates a significant part of its fleet under the flag of an EU or EEA State.
To avoid any discrimination within the EEA, the Belgian State agreed to extend the benefit of tonnage tax to all eligible ships with an EEA flag.
Following these adjustments, on 6 November 2017 the European Commission approved the Belgian tax measures for the maritime sector.
This decision is in line with previous decisions of the European Commission concerning the Swedish tonnage tax scheme, a German scheme for the reduction of social contributions for seafarers and the Lithuanian tonnage tax scheme.