WHAT              Information exchange between national tax boards

WHO                Estonia and Finland

HOW                Connecting the two governmental agencies via X-Road

STATUS             On hold (March 2019)

The Estonian Tax and Customs Board (EMTA) and the Finnish Tax Administration (VERO) are moving towards a cooperation that would allow the agencies to exchange data in a more accurate and efficient way. And speaking of ways, what could serve the purpose better than the reliable and well-tested infrastructure of X-Road?

With the project currently on hold, but at a stage where preliminary talks and declarations of intention have already been explored, Anna Aleksejeva (EMTA) and Ann-Sofi Johansson (VERO) tell us about needs and benefits that this project will be dealing with.

Background and institutional framework

The northern and the southern shores of the Gulf of Finland celebrated the 100thanniversary of their independence respectively in 2017 and 2018. However, by that time, Estonia and Finland had already reached a crucial agreement enhancing the long-standing cooperation between the two countries: at the coming of age of the two Republics, Prime Ministers of both sides had signed a joint declaration in 2016 enhancing cross-border data exchange and the development of digital services in different fields. Tax records and fiscal matters, naturally, were included in the declaration as well.

The tax boards of Estonia and Finland have started a project aimed at fostering the exchange of information via X-Road, as the platform provides the best solution for the countries to share data in a secured, stable, and efficient digital environment. Legal obstacles have not presented concerns, and a draft agreement awaits to receive the final signatures; however, the current project, started in December 2016 and temporarily put aside exactly one year later, encountered a few bumps on technicalities regarding the databases that were to be connected. Currently on hold, both parties remain strongly interested in the project and work towards solving the last issues that can make this cooperation start in practice as well. 

The interest manifested by Estonia and Finland does not represent a novelty in this sense, not even for what concerns tax-related data exchange. The forefather of the current project could be identified in the BSR TaxI plan from 2014 and 2015, aimed at gathering tax authorities and state information agencies from Estonia, Sweden, and Latvia, and explore the possibilities for cross-border cooperation “on the electronic exchange of tax information in the Baltic Sea Region”. Though Finnish tax authorities did not take part to that project, both Estonia and Finland took the chance to openly express interest in starting bilateral agreements that would make such kind of cooperation come to life. As it then turned out, tax-related topics became part of the broader, more comprehensive agreement that the two countries reached in order to establish a smart process of information exchange.

Needs and challenges

Due to the current status of the project, it’s not easy to provide numbers on how many people and companies would be positively affected by this project. The needs to be tackled, instead, are clear and shared between the tax authorities of the two countries. “It is difficult to summarise and process the number of requests we receive”, explains Aleksejeva, Chief Expert at the International Information Exchange unit of EMTA, “as these often include information from foreign databases and additional documents that need to be analysed by an employee”. It is primarily a matter of human resources, since “human labour is frequently involved and now it can take from 1 up to 20 months to get the information we need”, Aleksejeva explains.

Ann-Sofi Johansson, Manager at the International Information Exchange department of VERO, gives us an idea of the pipeline involved in the process of requesting information. We are currently presented with a situation where employees need to overlook the process of auditing and requesting information from foreign authorities from the beginning to the end. “Saving resources is important, for example in the case of an audit: right now, if we need information from Estonia, first we have someone defining what kind of information is needed; then someone sends the request; then there’s another person on the other side receiving and processing the request, and so on and so on”, Johansson says.

Connecting agencies and databases, once that issues of compatibility and readability of the data are overcome, will allow the two Tax Boards to save human and economic resources, and to increase the accuracy of the data exchanged.

The solution

The reliability and scalability of X-Road has been put to test in different contexts and situations already. The reasons that make its implementation so appealing in this case are connected to what made it the backbone of e-Estonia, serving the needs of a whole country since 2001: efficiency, accuracy, security.

The path Estonia and Finland already decided to take, first with the Prime Ministers’ declaration, and then with the start of different projects aimed at enforcing such cooperation, implies the use of X-Road in its adaptability to diverse situations. As both the Estonian and the Finnish Tax Boards have recognized, the current project will bring significant advantages to the two agencies in dealing with income declarationsVAT information, and international audits.

“What we need to have is real-time information right from the start,” Johansson states, “as the world keeps moving faster, and it is important for us to dispose of correct information, at the right time, to formulate correct data on taxation”. The benefits do not affect only the quality of the information exchanged, but also the general workflow managed by the two agencies. “X-Road would be the perfect solution to avoid unnecessary manual analysis of data and to automate the information exchange between databases for simple requests,” Aleksejeva highlights.

The Estonian Tax and Customs Board and the Finnish Tax Administration remain interested in the project, and are currently working on the issues of compatibility and readiness to make the cooperation effectively see the light.

Author: Federico Plantera