E-invoices in Europe. How this works in other countries [Unifiedpost Group report]
A report by the Unifiedpost group indicates that the European market is only now moving towards the widespread use of electronic invoicing. In Italy, which was the only one of thirteen analysed countries to implement the requirement of making settlements exclusively via e-invoices, over 2 billion of these documents were issued between January 2019 and April 2020. The other European countries are at various stages of implementation of these new solutions. In some of them, e-invoices are still issued solely for transactions within the public sector.
Image author: Unifiedpost Group
In accordance with European regulations (Directive 2014/55/EU), an electronic invoice means an invoice that has been issued, transmitted and received in a structured electronic format to enable its automatic processing. In order not to confuse them with the “ordinary” e-invoices used in Poland to date, they are referred to as structured invoices. “The Digital Invoicing Wave in Europe” report drawn up in Belgium by our experts covers the use of the latter. The report describes the legal status in force in 2020 within thirteen major European markets: Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Latvia, Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the aforementioned Italy.
In the report we analysed the extent of e-invoice use in transactions between businesses (B2B – Business-to-Business) and between businesses and public administrative bodies (B2G – Business-to-Government). We also reviewed major stimulating circumstances and obstacles to the implementation of new solutions at European Union level and in individual countries.
Above all, the fight against the VAT gap
Until recently, businesses held the initiative in regard to the implementation of electronic invoices. Today, however, it is the legislative bodies at EU and national level that strive to implement e-invoices as quickly and as widely as possible, both in B2B and B2G transactions. This is one of the elements in combating losses of state revenues, a significant part of which comprises Value Added Tax. The VAT gap in the entire European Union reached a level of no less than EUR 137.5 billion in 2017. It is no wonder then that the Member States are trying to strengthen control over the financial settlements of businesses in order to reduce that gap.
EU legislation has also a stimulating effect on individual countries. In addition to the above-mentioned e-Invoicing Directive, an important role is played by the guidelines on communication between authorities, business and citizens within and between Member States, which are included in the European Interoperability Framework (EIF). Peppol is another initiative – a unified standard for the international electronic exchange of documents (including e-invoices) in public procurements conducted by European government institutions. This standard has already been adopted in 31 European countries, as well as in Australia, China, Japan, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore and the United States.
Italy and Scandinavia are in the lead with the United Kingdom at the rear
The number of structured electronic invoices issued in the majority of the countries covered by our study is still very small, or even marginal. Italy is, of course, the exception, as it has already implemented a requirement for making settlements exclusively in this way. When compared to other countries, a high number of e-invoices is in circulation in the Scandinavian and Baltic countries. For example, in Sweden over half of the transactions within the public sector are already concluded with the use of e-invoices. In Estonia 30% of all invoices is electronic, although in B2B transactions this percentage falls to 10%. The worst situation in this respect is observed in the United Kingdom. Some public entities in that country are implementing the use of e-invoices, but these initiatives are impeded by the absence of regulation within central government. The entire situation is additionally complicated by separate national legislations in all the constituent nations of the United Kingdom.
In conducting the review of legal regulations in the thirteen countries analysed in the report, our experts focused on whether they implemented the requirement of using e-invoices in three cases. The first case concerns the requirement of state entities to accept this type of settlements: there are no differences between the countries as it has been implemented in all of them. Then, it was analysed whether businesses have to issue electronic invoices to public entities. Only Luxembourg, Latvia, the United Kingdom and part of Belgium have not implemented this requirement. The final criterion concerns the requirement for businesses to use e-invoices in their B2B transactions, with transmission via dedicated government portals, or potentially the transmission of key elements of the invoices issued to the tax authorities . As has already been mentioned, only Italy has implemented that requirement.
Positive impact of the pandemic
Although the short-term shock caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has exerted a negative impact on the entire economy, our experts believe that in the medium to long term, positive effects can be expected within the context of the widespread use of electronic invoicing. Growing debt and limited financial liquidity will motivate businesses to implement optimisation projects, specifically projects for automating business processes and improving financial management. Moreover, pressure will increase on the largest companies, which to a large extent already use e-invoices, and on their contractors to implement these solutions as well. At the same time, state authorities, in seeking to minimize losses caused by tax fraud, will be accelerating the option, or obligation, to use e-invoices, which will give them greater control over financial flows.
Our report shows that structured electronic invoices are not yet widely used in the countries surveyed. However, it can be expected that this will change quite quickly, because both entrepreneurs and administrations, especially the tax authorities, see the advantages of this solution.
The full report [EN] can be downloaded here: