A key ingredient of any economy is taxation. It is an ingredient we have used to good effect in Ireland. Now the EU Commission wants to change the recipe.

It has proposed a common tax base for all 25 members, called the Common Consolidated Corporation Tax Base (CCCTB). CCCTB would mean two key changes.

Under the first change CCCTB would be determined on what constitutes taxable profits. There are a range of methods used between members to arrive at a taxable profits figure - and for good reason.

Under the second change, instead of taxing profits actually earned in a member state, profits would be totalled and then allocated to the relevant member.

Tax would apply at the applicable rate of each of the countries concerned. Depending on how a company is required to allocate its profits, the amount of tax payable could rise or fall. How any allocation is done has significant implications. Profits could be allocated to each member - not by how much profit is derived in that country, but rather the value of the company's assets in that country.

For some companies, their asset value may be based on the scale of their buildings, or the quality of the infrastructure in the country concerned.

This is often the case in Europe's higher taxed economies. For other companies, particularly those in financial services, pharmaceuticals and information technology, their value may be based on intangible assets, such as their brand, patents, R&D and innovation.

This is often the case in Europe's lower taxed economies - like Ireland. Yet, ignoring the value of intangible assets is a possibility under CCCTB. If you think CCCTB would just impact on multi-nationals, think again.

Such a possibility would be like the smoking ban applying in the bar but not in the lounge. Governments would eventually be forced into making CCCTB the norm, lumbering SMEs with additional complexities. Members, who under CCTB were faced with the prospect of losing substantial revenue from corporation tax, would be forced to look elsewhere to make up the deficit - that means higher taxes.

CCCTB is not just bad for Ireland, but bad for Europe. Finance Minister Brian Cowen has repeatedly stated the Government's position that CCCTB does not serve the interests of Ireland or the EU.

Arun Sarin could see the owners of more than 10pc of the company's shares oppose his appointment, in what weekend reports said represented an "unprecedented" level of opposition for a leading British company.

The protest vote at tomorrow's annual meeting in London follows Vodafone's warning last year of slowing revenues growth, while in May it announced losses of 14.9bn following a 28bn write down on its assets.

Morley Fund Management, which owns a 2pc stake in the company worth more than 1 billion, said on Friday it would vote against the re-appointment of Mr Sarin, as well as other non-executive directors.

Meanwhile, an even larger number of shareholders - estimated at around 15pc - is forecast to vote against the company's remuneration report, which reduces the performance hurdle required for directors to qualify for share options.

A number of drug dealers in their 20s have managed to build considerable wealth undetected. The scam, known as mortgage application fraud, involves drug dealers buying houses in the name of a relative or trusted associate.

The criminals have used rogue financial brokers to establish a false earnings and savings history for the individual in whose name the house is to be bought. These are submitted to a bank with other mortgage application paperwork.

Once the mortgage has been approved, the loan drawn down and the house sale closed, the drug dealer pays the mortgage each month and launders his earnings.

Some drug dealers who have come to the attention of garda in recent months have bought up to six houses and were using them to launder between 7,000 and 10,000 per month. The practice came to light during Garda investigations into six gangland-style murders in Coolock since February.

The chief suspect in the shooting dead of Keith Fitzsimons (24), from Glin Grove, Coolock, last month was found to have used mortgage application fraud to acquire six houses, worth some 2 million. This man, in his mid-20s, is believed to have ordered the shooting. Officers investigating the other five murders and some shootings in Blanchardstown encountered similar practices being used by those under investigation.

Senior garda believe the mortgage application fraud has been developed by those involved in organised crime in response to the Criminal Assets Bureau (Cab) and tighter financial controls.

"When we went after John Gilligan's gang, most of the assets they had were in their own names," said one senior Garda source. "But we're not seeing that now so much."

As part of new initiatives under Cab head Chief Supt Feilx McKenna the bureau now runs workshops for banks and other legal and financial professionals to help them identify suspicious activity.

In 1996 there were 500 reports to Garda over suspicious transactions. Last year that figure reached almost 10,500, according to the latest figures.

In a move likely to be viewed as a victory for the banks, current accounts, overdrafts, ordinary deposit accounts and term deposits of less than one year will be excluded from common rules requiring regulated firms to recommend a suitable product. There will be no obligation on the banks to conduct factfinding exercises on the financial objectives and position of new customers who want to take out these products, nor will the banks have to issue customers with a "reason why" statement explaining why a particular product is in their best interests.

While the exclusion of current accounts and overdrafts from the common rules is broadly considered practical, groups representing independent intermediaries do not regard deposit accounts as basic products.

Irish consumers hold around 55 billion in deposit accounts with terms of up to and including one year. But these accounts are generally low-yielding, often failing to keep up with inflation, and financial advisers argue that in some cases a higher-return investment product would be more suitable and that consumers should be informed of their options.

Brokers, who are already obliged to conduct factfinds and prepare reason why statements on most products, were hoping that the consumer protection code would introduce a level playing field in terms of the paperwork firms must complete.

Insurance and mortgage intermediaries are likely to object to the regulator's decision to include insurance products, such as home insurance and term life assurance, under the common factfinding and suitability rules but exclude basic banking products.

In their response to the financial regulator's consultation paper on the code, the Republic's two biggest banks, AIB and Bank of Ireland, said that the common rules on suitability and factfinding made no sense in relation to banking products and called on them to be made exempt.

The regulator's consumer protection code, which is expected to include a ban on unsolicited pre-approved code, will be implemented over the coming months.

It is estimated that more than 6.9 million new cars were sold across the continent so far this year. A total of 130,480 new cars were registered here before the end of June.

However, many other leading car manufacturers are seeing declines in European sales from 2005 figures including Renault (-10.7%), Opel/Vauxhall (-3.0%) and Peugeot (-2.8%).

In Ireland, Volkswagen saw sales for the first six months of the year increase by almost 6,000 vehicles while Opel sales rose by almost 2,000 units.

A Jato Dynamics spokesperson said Volkswagen had retained its lead as Europe's top-selling car brand as a result of strong sales of its Polo, Passat, Fox and Jetta models.

Fiat's strong performance was credited with the positive market reception to its new Grande Punto, Croma and Sedici models as well as the fact that the Italian car market had suffered last year due to a strike among car transport drivers.

The Ford Focus emerged as Europe's favourite car with international sales of more than 206,000 vehicles so far in 2006 up over 8% on last year. It is also the top-selling model in Ireland where 1,302 units were sold in May alone.

Some models recorded dramatic increases in sales across Europe, largely due to the release of new versions, including the Volkswagen Passat (+69.4%), Fiat Punto (+65.8%) and the Renault Clio (+44.8%).

In a sign that consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of rising energy costs, diesel cars accounted for 49% of all new models sold this year in Europe. In Ireland, they account for just under 40% of new cars.

Sales of controversial SUV models across Europe remain strong, despite growing criticism of their harmful impact on the environment. Year-to-date sales of SUVs are up around 10%. Overall, they account for almost 7% of all new vehicles sold in Europe.

Nearly half of overseas-listed groups say the EU prospectus directive has hurt their ability to offer employee share plans and one fifth are considering changing or dropping their schemes, according to a study by law firm Linklaters. The effect is so serious that it calls into question the future of employee share ownership in the EU, Linklaters claims.

Linklaters estimates that the shares offered by the 43 companies it interviewed were worth an average of $5,000 a year per plan member. Share schemes for top executives are not affected.

Linklaters hopes the findings, to be published on Monday, will press Brussels to rewrite part of the directive and come out more strongly in favour of employee share ownership. The directive was drawn up to introduce common and higher standards for prospectuses for securities issues throughout the EU.

But non-EU listed companies are not exempt from the rules, which were drawn up after thousands of Enron employees suffered heavy losses on their shares. So, to comply with the law, companies such as Microsoft have had to draw up a separate prospectus for EU employee share schemes because their US financial statements are not accepted by the EU.

The document is on the same scale as that required for a privatisation, says Ms Cooper, and some companies told Linkaters it was costing them up to $1m. Moreover, the directive has not been implemented consistently across all member states. France, for example, has gone completely off piste and demands a prospectus even where the share awards are free.

Just as the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate governance legislation in the US has deterred some companies from listing in New York, there have been fears that the directive could divert business from London to centres such as Zurich, Luxembourg or Singapore.

People familiar with the matter said that after weeks of on-and-off negotiations, the two sides finally appeared to have narrowed their differences, and could finalise the terms of an agreement on Monday. However, there still remained a chance that the buy-out would fail.

This time again, KKR, led by financiers Henry Kravis and George Roberts, is participating in the proposed transaction, after forming a consortium with Bain Capital, the buy-out unit of Merrill Lynch, and members of the family of Senate majority leader Bill Frist, who founded HCA.

The group is proposing to pay $51 per share in cash for HCA, or the equivalent of a 6 per cent premium to HCA's share price on Friday. Heavy speculation that negotiations about a deal had been rekindled in recent days had led to a jump in the company's market value.

HCA has a network of 190 hospitals around the US, from which it derived nearly $25bn in revenues last year. Many analysts have been sceptical about the prospects for a buy-out in the hospital sector, which has been struggling to grapple with the rising number of uninsured patients.

However, the private equity groups engineering the buy-out will be betting that the aging population, coupled with government attempts to reduce the proportion of uninsured Americans, could make the deal work from a financial point of view. HCA would not be the first hospital chain to be run by private equity groups. JLL Partners, a New York-based firm, has made a number of investments in the hospital industry in recent years.

As buy-out funds have grown in recent years, there has been much talk in the industry that 2006 would be the right year for the RJR Nabisco record to be broken. Therefore, a buy-out of HCA might only be the first in a series of private equity deals in excess of $30bn.

However, there are concerns that a bubble is developing within the buy-out business as interest rates rise and the cost of debt financing jumps. This could lead to a string of bankruptcies and much lower returns for certain funds.

But today, Google Maps still does not offer some of the pedestrian conveniences of Yahoo Maps and MapQuest from AOL. For example, it does not remember addresses, so users need to tell it where they live every time they want driving directions.

Do Internet users prefer services that are consistent and predictable, like those offered by Yahoo, or are they more interested in Google's wow factor? These two approaches define a pivotal front in the battle for online loyalty between the major players in the Internet search business.

Both companies see e-mail and other services as ways to display more advertising and, even more important, as a way to keep their brands in front of users so they stick around for more searches.

The battle is about one thing: getting that search box in front of as many people in as many places as possible, said Jim Lanzone, the chief executive of Ask.com , the search service owned by IAC/InterActiveCorp.

Google is continuing to extend its lead in users and revenue from Web search, while Yahoo's attempt to compete is foundering. Last week, Yahoo reported weak search revenue and said it would delay a critical search advertising system, sending its shares down 22 percent to a two-year low.

With AOL and MSN from Microsoft losing share and plagued by strategic confusion, Yahoo is in a position to further solidify its lead as the Web's most popular full-service Internet portal, so any incursions by Google into areas like e-mail and maps are a threat.

Google has tied some products together for example, combining its instant messaging and e-mail services on the same Web page. But those links are often created after a product is introduced.

Sometimes this penchant for speed and innovation can cause Google to zoom past the basics. When asked about the lack of an address book in Google Maps in an interview last fall, Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president for search products and user experience, said it was a gap in the product. She said it was much easier to get the company's engineers to spend time developing pioneering new technology than a much more prosaic address storage system.

There are risks in each approach. Google tends to introduce a lot of new products and then watch to see what works. This has the potential to alienate users if there are too many half-baked ideas or false starts. At the same time, Yahoo risks being seen as irrelevant if it tries to put so many features into each product that it is always months late to market with any good idea.

So far, outside of the Web search business, neither company appears to be able to make a significant dent in the position of the other. Both companies are gaining users as AOL and MSN decline. Yahoo is the No. 1 site for e-mail and online news in the United States, while it is second in instant messaging, behind AOL, according to data from comScore Media Metrix.

Google, by contrast, is much less consistent. Its map service is now a very close third behind MapQuest and Yahoo. And the two-year-old Gmail is now the No. 4 e-mail service in the country, with 8.6 million users in June. That is not bad in a market where people do not switch e-mail addresses casually. But over the last year, according to comScore, Yahoo added 11.8 million e-mail users, more than Gmail's entire user base.

Moreover, some of Google's products are languishing. Its Google Talk chat software had only 44,000 users in June, according to comScore. And its Orkut social networking service had 279,000 users in the United States, although it is quite popular in Brazil.

Yahoo's social networking service, Yahoo 360, had 4.7 million United States users in June. That is not a small number, but the service is tiny compared with the 52 million people who used MySpace, which was acquired by the News Corporation last year. And it is less popular than Facebook, Xanga and several other independent networks.

Mr. Patel said he expected that use of Yahoo 360 would increase because it was now woven more closely into the new version of the company's instant messaging program.

Yahoo's difficulty in gaining traction in social networking is especially troublesome for the company, because it has made a big bet that contributions from users would help differentiate its offerings from those of Google. It has bought some start-ups that generated buzz in Silicon Valley, like Flickr, a photo-sharing service, and Del.icio.us, which lets people share links to Web sites. And it has started other services, like Yahoo Answers, an information exchange that has quickly built a following.

In typical Yahoo fashion, the company has tried to link all these services together. Its new technology news service uses Yahoo Answers as a way to provide user help, and product reviews contributed by users are automatically displayed on their Yahoo 360 profile pages.

So far, it is unclear whether most of these attempts to add community features are catching on with Yahoo's mainstream audience. Indeed, some argue that Yahoo's dalliance with trendy concepts like tagging a way for users to add labels to Internet content is too obscure for its mainstream audience, and that it may be ceding to Google its position as the most streamlined, easy-to-use service.

Google is simpler, more focused on real and basic customer needs, with some exceptions for their experiments, and less focused on some of the fads driving Silicon Valley today, said Phil Terry, chief executive of Creative Good, a user experience consulting firm.

Mr. Patel said Yahoo's product design has had to evolve now that some people have a decade of experience using the Internet while many others are still neophytes. He said the company was trying to use its personalization features to treat new and more experienced users differently.

Google has started several services that allow users to create content, but they are separate islands. Its Orkut social network, the Blogger blogging service, the Google Pages home page service and the new Web Albums feature of Google's Picasa photo software are, so far, not connected. Also standing apart are Google Coop and Google Notebook, two different approaches to letting users identify interesting Web pages to share with others.

Mr. Eustace said that there were so many services that let people post content to the Web that Google did not put a high priority on creating its own integrated service.

Over the last several years, Yahoo has devoted so much of its resources to building up its search business that it has been slow to improve many of its other offerings. This has allowed Google to gain the initiative in areas like e-mail and maps. Indeed, even in stock market information where Yahoo Finance is the dominant product Google was the first to offer an interactive stock-price graph, a feature Yahoo has just started testing.

Mr. Patel said Yahoo was not simply playing catch-up and had been working on a new version of Yahoo Finance before Google's service was introduced. Still, he acknowledged that upstarts often have an advantage.

Google is a new player on the scene and doesn't have to deal with legacy issues, he said. Take Yahoo Mail, with 200 million users. We could change the entire user interface and say like it or lump it.' Instead, he said, the company preferred to give users a smoother transition to the more modern e-mail system it is testing.

Sergey Brin, the company's co-founder and its president of technology, said in an interview last week that he had been encouraging engineers to develop their ideas as add-ons for existing Google products, rather than as stand-alone services. For example, after Google Talk failed to attract much of a user base, the company added an instant message feature to Gmail that allows users to chat with people on the same Web page that displays their e-mail.

With this approach, Mr. Brin said, Google can take advantage of the users it already has, rather than trying to build new followings for each new offering.

Meanwhile, Yahoo says it is now trying to emulate Google's faster method of creating products. Like most big companies, it used to develop software by first creating a comprehensive design that defined how features would be written and tested. Instead, it is now trying what is known as a scrum method, where it will plan, build and test parts of a product every 30 days..

We may not know how everything fits together, Mr. Patel said. But by creating partly completed products that can be shown to customers, We can get insights from users and react to that over a three- or four-month period to put it all together, he said.

Until recently, such words might have been considered heresy in France, where many winemakers have an almost religious attachment to the idea that wines must reflect the specific attributes of the land on which they are grown, not the global characteristics of a brand. French law requires quality wines to be labeled accordingly, listing details like the region, the vineyard and the producer. But many consumers in markets like Britain and the United States now prefer to choose their wines according to the grape variety, like cabernet sauvignon or Riesling, rather than the name of the region where they were grown, like Bordeaux.

New World producers have obliged, providing ranges of varietal wines and lining them up on supermarket shelves under familiar brand names like Jacob's Creek or Gallo. Though France, a country synonymous with wine, was slow to follow suit, a few French brands are catching on with consumers. JP Chenet, a line of wines marketed by Les Grands Chais de France, is one of the fastest growing.

Chamarr, which recently went on sale in Britain and the Nordic countries, is a further step down the road toward international-style branding. The labels, with the Chamarr name in large type, accompanied by the region or varietal blend, closely resemble those from leading California brands, an indication of where OVS is setting its sights.

The company recently set up an office in Miami and plans to enter the American market this year. The wines will generally be priced at $7 to $12, said Hubert Surville, who heads the United States unit.

OVS has big plans, hoping to sell a million cases, or 12 million bottles, each year in the United States within five years, Mr. Surville said. The company, which has financing from the French government and private banks, plans to support the introduction of Chamarr with a broad-based marketing campaign.

In the United States, Mr. Surville said, OVS plans to spend $10 million on advertising and other promotions over the next three years, a sizable amount for a wine brand. In Britain, much of the marketing activity will be focused on the point of sale, as in-store promotions fuel up to 70 percent of wine sales in the country, Mr. Courbon said.

Though French wines once held a 10 percent market share in the United States, that is down to about 3 percent, analysts say, with Australia, Chile and other young exporters making up much of the difference. In Britain, French wines retain nearly one-fifth of sales, but that share has slid, too, and France has yielded market leadership to Australia.

Americans have also shown a preference for big, fruity wines from countries like Australia, and Chamarr wines are being made in a similar style, Mr. Courbon said, emphasizing grapes from the sunny south of France.

Some of the other successes in branding French wine have come through outside involvement. Fat Bastard, an irreverent brand created about a decade ago by a British importer, Guy Anderson, and a French producer, Thierry Boudinaud, and featuring a cartoon hippopotamus on the label, sells 500,000 cases a year in the United States. Mr. Anderson and Mr. Boudinaud have sold the brand to its United States distributor and moved on to other quirky brand ventures involving French wine, including Le Freak.

E.& J. Gallo is selling a French wine under the label Red Bicyclette, an attempt to build on nostalgic images of rural France. Southcorp, which owns the Lindemans, Penfolds and Rosemount brands of Australian wine, has also started a French brand, La Belle Terrasse. Analysts say it is probably a matter of time before other big companies start their own French wine labels.

Australians have shown a particular knack for brands, with a relatively recent entrant in the American market, Yellow Tail, growing into something of a phenomenon and selling more than 7.5 million cases last year. Like many of the other new wine brands, it features an animal on the label, in this case a wallaby.

Chamarr is also taking that route, as the name, in southern French patois, refers to a kind of butterfly, the yellow-tailed skipper. OVS has yet to select an ad agency to develop this image, but Mr. Courbon said it had narrowed the list to three finalists.

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