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On Thursday 14 June 2018, Sjoerd Douma will officially accept the position of Professor of International and European Tax Law with a daring and highly topical inaugural lecture. In conversation with Sjoerd Douma on his reasons for pursuing this interdisciplinary subject.

Douma, Sjoerd, hoogleraar FdR, Internationaal en Europees Formeel Belastingrecht

Although Sjoerd Duma had already been appointed Professor of International and European Tax Law per 1 October 2017, he will be giving his inaugural lecture and officially accepting the position on 14 June 2018. The inaugural lecture will be preceded by a mini-symposium with the participation of circa 40 representatives drawn from the tax profession, government, business and academia. The theme of the inaugural lecture and symposium: Miscommunication and Distrust in the International Tax Debate 

What sparked your interest in this topic?

“The economic and financial crisis of 2008 led to a radical reform of international tax systems around the globe resulting in, for instance, higher tax rates and enormous amounts of state aid flowing to financial institutions. Once implemented, these reforms however failed to evoke any less harsh news reporting, or to an increased understanding and higher level of trust between the various players in international taxation. Actually, the level of distrust between the various stakeholders would appear to have actually increased rather than decreased. My inaugural lecture will deal with this area of tension at the intersection of public opinion, distrust and miscommunication.

Why, in your opinion, is this important?

“International taxation is a complex affair. In addition to the national and international rules in effect, attention must be paid to the various systemic actors, i.e. the persons who actually implement the rules – tax authorities, ministries of finance, multinationals, tax advisers. Non-governmental organisations and citizens operate outside this system. Within the system, however, trust plays a crucial role – it is the basis for a properly functioning system of taxation.”

Could you give an example in which distrust and miscommunication played a role?

“The debate on repealing the dividend withholding tax is a pretty good example. I need merely point out that five professors were asked to give their opinions on the merits of the plan during the public hearing held in the House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer). Both during and after the hearing, there was more talk of (hidden) agendas and individuals ‘wearing two hats’ than of any matters of substance. In general, there is a substantial lack of trust between government (the tax authorities and the Ministry of Finance) and the business community, tax advisers, academics and NGOs. This also explains the numerous requests filed under the Government Information (Public Access) Act (Wet openbaarheid van bestuur) – and the prevailing sentiment that the “other” side lacks transparency, is not altogether honest.”

How is your research structured?

“My inaugural lecture will explain the debate as it was carried out over the last several years, how it should be construed, and how it can be carried out more constructively in future. To that end, I employ insights gleaned from communication science: How is public opinion formed? What is the media’s role in that process? How does a change in public opinion lead to new rules and legislation? Another very important point: Can this process serve to explain the level of miscommunication and distrust at play in the international tax debate?

What do you hope to achieve with this research?

“Although I was appointed to the position of Professor of International and European Procedural Tax Law – a chair that predominantly calls for a legal perspective – I feel that the way the various players in the taxation game relate to one another should not be the exclusive domain of lawyers. What is more, we need outside help to comprehend new developments in the international tax debate. Remarkably, no research into this has ever been carried out in the Netherlands. I hope to carry on with this research after my inaugural lecture, in cooperation with the communication researchers at the UvA, who are, incidentally, world-class. Assuming we achieve greater understanding, we should be able to present suggestions for improvement.

About Sjoerd Douma

Before coming to the UvA, Douma served as a professor at the University of Leiden, where his duties included managing the Honours College of Law. Douma lectures at several universities including the Université de Panthéon-Assas in Paris. He is a deputy justice (raadsheer-plaatsvervanger) at the Arnhem-Leeuwarden Court of Appeal (Gerechtshof Arnhem-Leeuwarden).

Douma has been a partner at the firm Lubbers, Boer & Douma since 2017. He was a tax adviser at PriceWaterhouseCoopers Belastingadviseurs N.V. from 2004 until 2017. Before that, he worked in the research department of the Supreme Court (Wetenschappelijk Bureau van de Hoge Raad).