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TAXES

How Spain’s politicians are waging a tax war ahead of 2023 elections

With general elections a year away, the battle lines have been drawn between Spain's left-wing government and its right-wing regions, who are tripping over themselves to unveil lower tax policies.

spain tax war
Andalusia's right-wing presidents (left in second image next to PP leader Feijóo) has thrown a spanner in the works by recently announcing that he would scrap wealth tax in his region, a decision that Spain's tax minister María Jesús Montero (seen next to Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez) has called unfair for the country's other regions. Photos: Pierre Philippe Marcou, Julio Muñoz/AFP

On the back burner for months, the tax issue hit the headlines last week after the leader of the southern Andalusia region decided to axe wealth tax and lower income tax in a bid to attract wealthy taxpayers.

“We were a tax hellhole but now we’re the region with the second lowest taxes in Spain,” boasted Juanma Moreno of the right-wing opposition Popular Party (PP) — his region trailing only Madrid, which is also held by the PP.

As one of the Western world’s most decentralised nations, Spain is divided into 17 regions, whose governments have considerable autonomy and are responsible for budget management.

Moreno’s remarks opened the floodgates, with many other PP-run regions announcing cuts, including Murcia, which slashed income tax, and Galicia, which is rolling back its wealth tax.

‘Welcome to paradise’

This flurry of announcements was hailed by top figures within the PP, among them the party’s rising star, Madrid leader Isabel Díaz Ayuso.

“Welcome to paradise,” tweeted this champion of the tax war, who last year repealed some 15 local levies in her region.

But the move has drummed up a storm of criticism within the government of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, which has denounced it as economic populism ahead of regional elections in May and a general election expected in late 2023.

And it has raised concerns about the impact of such measures on public service funding.

Economy Minister Nadia Calviño didn’t mince her words, denouncing such moves as introducing an “irresponsible, incoherent and destructive dynamic that would affect the whole country” and demanding they be reversed.

And Budget Minister María Jesús Montero warned it was “dangerous” to create “tax havens” within Spain.

Even Sánchez weighed in, denouncing what he called “tax gifts to the minority” and pleading for “responsible tax policies”.

“There must be tax reforms that guarantee that those who have more contribute more to the public purse in order to have a much stronger welfare state,” he said.

Tax harmonisation

On Thursday, the government said it would slap an “exceptional” tax on the country’s richest to help pay for measures aimed at easing the impact of spiralling inflation.

And it is in favour of a greater “tax harmonisation” between the regions.

But it’s a sensitive subject in Spain where the Constitution requires a certain solidarity between the regions while also guaranteeing their robust fiscal and financial autonomy on top of extending them wide-ranging powers over issues such as health and education.

“If some regions are lowering taxes, it’s because legally they can,” said Stella Raventos, head of AEDAF, the Spanish Association of Tax Advisors.

“Not all regions have the same policies because they don’t have the same problems.”

But given the risks inherent in a wholesale policy of slashing duties, “a tax harmonisation policy could be a good idea”, as long as it was kept within “reasonable levels” and with upper limits, she said.

For the PP, any such move would be crossing a red line.

If there is any government “interference”, there will be “a robust legal response”, Andalusia’s Moreno vowed, warning against any move to “centralise” fiscal policy.

For now, the government has no plans to encroach on the regions’ autonomy — although it is determined to fight any “fiscal dumping” within the framework of a huge reform package aimed at making Spain’s tax system more just and progressive.

Details of the tax reform, which is required by Brussels in exchange for aid channelled through its post-pandemic recovery scheme, will be released early next year.

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TAXES

The tax changes in Spain in 2023 that you need to know about

The new year in Spain has brought with it a whole raft of new tax measures and changes that you should be aware of. Here's all you need to know.

The tax changes in Spain in 2023 that you need to know about

There are a number of new tax measures or changes to the existing system coming into force in Spain in 2023, while other temporary taxes from 2022 have been maintained.

Here are all the changes you need to know about and how they could affect you.

IRPF

This year, the Ministry of Finance will change the way they calculate the amount of Impuesto de la Renta para las Personas Físicas (IRPF) or personal income tax, you have to pay. 

In total, more than 250,000 workers will benefit from the changes and in some cases, will save more than €1,000 per year.

The government has also raised the minimum exemption from €14,000 to €15,000 to help the most vulnerable in Spanish society.

READ ALSO: Who in Spain will save €1,000 in 2023 thanks to income tax changes?

New pension fund tax

From January 1st 2023, all workers in Spain, whether salaried or self-employed, must pay a new tax through their social security contribution to help fill up Spain’s pension fund – a move that will affect over 20 million workers.

The Intergenerational Equity Mechanism (MEI), as it’s known, will be a small social security contribution intended to help balance pension financing between generations. It is hoped that the MEI will bring in around €22 billion by 2032, when it is anticipated the new tax will be lifted. 

In simple terms, if you work in Spain and thus contribute to social security, the new tax will represent 0.6 percent of your monthly salary, however, of this 0.6 percent your employer will pay 0.5 percent and you will only pay the other 0.1 percent.

READ ALSO: The new tax all workers in Spain will pay in 2023

Wealth tax

The Spanish government will maintain its so-called ‘wealth tax’, but there will be certain changes to it this year. The tax targets those with fortunes of €3 million or more.

Three brackets that have been established are a rate of 1.7 percent for fortunes between €3 and €5.3 million, 2.1 percent for wealth between €5.3 and €10.6 million, and 3.5 percent for fortunes over €10.6 million.

Savings tax

Large savings and capital income will also be taxed at a higher rate in Spain in 2023.

For taxable income over €200,000, the rate will be increased by one percent, from 26 percent to 27 percent. In addition savings of €300,000 or more will be taxed at 28 percent.

Self-employed workers

The Local covered the ongoing changes to tax system for autónomos (self-employed people) throughout 2022, including the main change that social security contributions will now be based on real income, instead of a set amount each month. 

The government has also rejigged the thresholds, but essentially anyone earning under €1,300 per month will be paying less in social security fees, with those earning €1166.70 to €1,300 a month paying just €3 less than they do now.

Those earning between €1,300 and €1,700 will pay the same amount as they do now – €294 per month, while anyone earning over €1,700 will be paying more.

According to the government, of the three million self-employed workers in Spain 2.4 million earn under €1,700 per month, meaning that the majority will see their social security contributions staying the same or reduced.

Self-employed workers in Spain will now have to choose an income bracket based on a projection of their annual net income according to a general table of base levels set by the government.

It’s as complicated as it sounds, with some accountants even unclear on exactly how this will work, but from what do know in 2023 there will be 15 different brackets of net income to calculate your social security contributions.

Tax breaks 

Several regions have announced various tax breaks for 2023, most notably Madrid. From Q1 2023, new autónomos in Madrid will have their social security fees paid for by the government for their first year of self-employed work in the region.

Recently the region also announced that it would offer tax breaks to draw foreign investment. Under the regional plan, foreigners or expatriate Spaniards will be able to deduct 20 percent of the value of their investments in real estate or financial assets from their income tax bill.

READ ALSO: Madrid region offers tax break to draw foreign investment

VAT

The Spanish government is also keeping its VAT cuts (known as IVA in Spanish) on various products. VAT on feminine hygiene and contraceptive products has been cut from 10 percent to 4 percent, as well as the temporary tax reduction on basic foods such as bread, flour, fruits or vegetables, which will be taxed at 0 percent, and to oils and pasta, which now have VAT rates of 5 percent.

These cuts are expected to last for six months.

READ ALSO: Spain axes VAT on basic foods to ease inflation pain

Banking and energy

The headline-grabbing tax measure in 2023 is a carry-over from 2022: a temporary windfall tax on banks and energy companies designed to bring €3.5 billion in extra revenue per year to help deal with the ongoing inflationary crisis.

Energy companies, whose profits have benefited hugely from the energy crisis, will have their excess profits taxed. This will generate around €2 billion per year for state coffers, and the tax will be levied at 1.2 percent on gross income for energy companies that make more than €1 billion a year.

Similarly, there is also a temporary 4.8 percent charge on banks’ net interest income and commissions in 2023 and 2024 to fund measures to ease cost of living pressures.

READ ALSO: Spain to slap windfall taxes on banks, energy firms

Plastic tax

A new tax on non-reusable plastics is also being introduced, approved at a rate of €0.45 per kilo of single-use plastic. A study by International Financial Analysts (AFI) estimates the plastic tax could generate €300 million for the Spanish state coffers.

The tax comes as part of Spain’s Waste and Contaminated Soils Law being brought in to try and decrease the use of single-use plastics, and to reduce the waste produced in landfills by 15 percent compared to 2010 levels.

READ ALSO: How Spain’s new tax on plastics will affect you

The Spanish government hopes to cut the use of food containers and single-use plastic cups by up to 70 percent by 2030.

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