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EU, tax, official languages, and bureaucracy

Your humble correspondent had another amazing bureaucratic day today. I was so jealous that the Spanish bureaucrats were so fast and efficient and could give the blondie her stamp so relatively quickly and without much hassle.

I received a letter from a French publisher than my royalties for 2010 - from my French book, "L'Equation Bogdanov", published in 2008 - were ready. It's not a new book so let's say that the relevant royalties for 2010 are of order hundreds of euros. However, I have to send them an affidavit of residence to avoid a withholding tax. France is a socialist country so this tax is huge - 33%. The corresponding rate is just 15% in post-socialist Czechia.

Fine. So we're talking at most about a few hundred euros in taxes here.

The European Commission has adopted a sensible directive with an intimidating name, the Council Directive 2003/49/EC directive, in June 2003 to avoid double taxation of interest and royalty payments in pairs of EU countries.

Now, to prove that I am a payer of the Czech taxes, they sent me 3 copies of the form 5000 - affidavit of residence - and 3 copies of form 5003, a list of the payments. (Two years ago, they were surprisingly satisfied with an affidavit of residence written mostly in Czech.) In each case, among the 3 copies, two are in English and one of them is in French. Now, the French are sensitive patriots but this is a nice gesture - you may have the forms in English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, or Dutch. See instructions for form 5000.

Fine. So just like the Spanish blonde in the video, I needed and I still need one stamp from the local tax office - which should be imprinted on 3 identical places.

So far, I have been to the tax office - on the opposite side of Pilsen - twice (four hours so far, and I am not counting a few more hours filling the forms and learning about them) and I will have to get to the tax office at least once again. To negotiate with them, one has to fill in and sign a Request to Obtain a Stamp from the Important Tax Bureaucrats of Pilsen (with a 100-crown fee stamp). They forgot about it for the first time so I had to return in the afternoon. They forgot about it again - so I expect that tomorrow, they will again tell me that it's missing so they can't give me my stamp.

Why did they forget about it in the afternoon? Well, we have a more important problem: the language! :-)

The women in the local tax office - a huge building - are able to read in most cases. Well, somewhat. They know a big part of the Latin alphabet. So they could figure out that none of the forms was written in Czech. But that's it. So they told me that they couldn't deal with such forms. I had to get a Czech version of the form.

Well, I told them it was a law of the EU that they had to give me a stamp confirming the residence. But they can always beat me. They showed me an internal regulation showing that the official language of the tax office is Czech and no employee in the huge Pilsner tax office - in the famous city of beer whose soccer team just defeated Yerevan in the Champions League, 4-to-0 - is expected to know any other language besides Czech. Needless to say, they fulfill this law perfectly. It's a building full of hundreds of people - usually women - who are painting themselves as very important folks but none of them apparently even speaks a foreign language, not even the "specialists" who are expected to confirm the residence.

The "big boss" lady literally had no clue what was written on the form. She can't even decode words such as "residence".

Imagine: some idealists in the EU are approving idealistic laws that should eliminate double taxation in the EU. Meanwhile, in 2011, seven years after Czechia joined the EU, the tax offices have made zero progress in their learning about the existence of other languages. From the Czech tax offices' viewpoint, the rest of the world doesn't exist.

They figured out that someone had been asking for a stamp on a similar form in the past. And amazingly enough, the taxpayers also provided the tax office ladies with an official translation of the documents to Czech. Well, someone probably made a deal worth millions of euros so they paid their translators and so on. I can't do it if the goal is to save something like 100 euros in French taxes.

This story shows many things. First of all, the Czech bureaucracy is hopelessly inefficient and incompatible with the world - and even with the rest of Europe. Also, the attempts to integrate the EU are detached from reality because even very elementary things - such as the effort to convince a government office in one country to provide a government office in another country with the right document or stamp - are de facto illegal in the individual EU countries. Every one-euro transaction between two countries essentially involves a multi-week paperwork project. The system is defective.

I obviously think that the common EU market is a good thing and there shouldn't be double taxation - but the latter thing should be standard even among pairs of countries that don't belong to the same confederation. But those primary aspects of dissolved borders don't really work yet. It is completely nonsensical to talk about some deeper integration - in harmonization of internal laws, culture, common budgets etc. The offices in different countries are not even able to talk to each other without a special external translator hired for every individual form. It's just pathetic. There is no actual EU unity.

And while I am no EU fan, I think that the primarily and painfully failing side in this whole story is the Czech side. Czechia is not important enough for its tax officers not to know any foreign language. If I were a minister of finance, I would probably fire most of the employees of such tax offices that look incompetent to me - and be sure that most of them do. I think that none of these things is happening in the public sector. It's as socialist and ineffective as it used to be during socialism.

Meanwhile, at the EU level, a harmonization of the bureaucracy could be a good thing. Every country should be allowed to choose its tax rates etc. - the traditions are different - but there's no reason for them not to have a unified standard how the affidavit of residence looks like. Every such form that may be expected to cross the intra-European borders should exist in all EU languages and the tax offices in all the countries should be obliged to understand any of them - because they could always look at a translation in their database.

The removal of unnecessary bureaucracy associated with the people's or products' crossing of the intra-European borders should be an EU priority because it's an issue in which the common area actually has an indisputably positive potential. But I think that none of the people who decide about such matters actually cares. None of them understands what improvements they could actually make if they knew the real world. They are living outside the real world - in a virtual aquarium where they're given everything they need. A professional translation to Bulgarian for every sentence isn't a problem and they don't even actually pay for it. All bureaucracy is being done for them by secretaries of some sort.

They don't care about the mess that criminal organizations such as the tax offices - and their impossibly bad (mis)communication - cause to the citizens.

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reader Kamil said...

If you don't like it stop paying taxes. They can't put all people who don't pay taxes to a prison, there is not enough space.