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April 14, 2021

European Commission proposes VAT exemption for vital goods and services distributed by the EU in times of crisis

The European Commission (the Commission) has proposed to exempt from value-added tax (VAT) goods and services made available by the Commission, European Union (EU) bodies and agencies to Member States and citizens during times of crisis. This is in response to the experience gained during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among other things, it has been determined that the VAT charged on certain transactions ends up being a cost factor in procurement operations that strains limited budgets. Therefore, this initiative aims to maximize the efficiency of EU funds used in the public interest to respond to crises, such as natural disasters and public health emergencies. It also aims to strengthen EU-level disaster and crisis management bodies, such as those falling under the EU's Health Union and the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.

Once in place, the new measures will allow the Commission and other EU agencies and bodies to import and purchase goods and services exempt from VAT when those purchases are being distributed during an emergency response in the EU. The recipients might be Member States or third parties, such as national authorities or institutions (for example, a hospital, a national health or disaster response authority). Goods and services covered under the proposed exemption include, inter alia:

  • Diagnostic tests and testing materials, and laboratory equipment
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) e.g., gloves, respirators, masks, gowns, disinfection products and equipment
  • Tents, camp beds, clothing and food
  • Search and rescue equipment, sandbags, life jackets and inflatable boats
  • Antimicrobials and antibiotics, chemical threat antidotes, treatments for radiation injury, antitoxins, iodine tablets
  • Blood products or antibodies
  • Radiation measuring devices
  • Development, production and procurement of necessary products, research and innovation activities, strategic stockpiling of products; pharmaceutical licenses, quarantine facilities, clinical trials, disinfection of premises, etc.

The legislative proposal, which will amend the EU VAT Directive, will now be submitted to the European Parliament for its opinion, and to the EU Council for adoption. Member States shall adopt and publish, by 30 April 2021, the laws, regulations and administrative provisions necessary to comply and the measures will apply from 1 January 2021.


For additional information with respect to this Alert, please contact the following:

Ernst & Young Belastingadviseurs LLP, Amsterdam

Ernst & Young LLP (United Kingdom), London


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