All limited liability companies have to prepare financial statements to monitor the health of their business and provide a true and fair view of their financial position. The EU has introduced rules to promote the convergence of accounting standards at global level and to ensure consistent and comparable financial reporting across the EU.
Under EU rules, listed companies (those whose securities are traded on a regulated market) must prepare their consolidated financial statements in accordance with a single set of international standards called IFRS (international financial reporting standards).
Other requirements apply to non-listed companies and small businesses.
Non-IFRS financial statements
Companies with limited liability doing business in the EU, whatever their size, have to prepare annual financial statements and file them with the relevant national business register. Groups have to prepare consolidated financial statements.
Financial statements have to include – as a minimum – the balance sheet, the profit and loss account and a certain number of notes to the financial statements. Large and medium-sized companies also have to publish management reports.
The rules companies have to follow when preparing financial statements are laid down in directive 2013/34/EU, known as the 'accounting directive'. The aim of this directive is to harmonise national requirements about
- presentation and content of annual or consolidated financial statements
- presentation and content of management reports
- the measurement basis companies use to prepare their financial statements
- audit of financial statements
- publication of financial statements
- the responsibility of management with regards to all above
The accounting directive also aims at reducing the administrative burden for small companies. It allows a simplified reporting regime for small and medium-sized enterprises and a very light regime for micro-companies (those with less than 10 employees).
The directive includes a definition of micro, small, medium and large companies based on thresholds concerning turnover, total assets and number of employees. These thresholds are periodically updated to keep pace with inflation.
IFRS financial statements
Regulation (EC) No 1606/2002 requires all listed companies to prepare their consolidated financial statements in accordance with a single set of international standards. These are the IFRS (international financial reporting standards), previously known as IAS (international accounting standards).
IFRS provide a common accounting language used by more than 100 countries. They make company accounts understandable and comparable across international boundaries.
Regulation (EC) No 1606/2002 lays down
- a mandatory rule: all EU listed companies must use IFRS as adopted by the EU for their consolidated financial statements
- discretionary provisions: EU countries can opt to extend the use of IFRS to annual financial statements and non-listed companies as well
IFRS endorsement process
When a new standard is issued by the IASB, the EU needs to endorse it before it comes into force. Regulation (EC) No 1606/2002 establishes a specific endorsement process under the responsibility of the European Commission together with the following consultative and advisory organisations:
- European Financial Reporting Advisory Group (EFRAG), an independent organisation providing expert advice to the Commission
- Accounting Regulatory Committee (ARC), composed of representatives of EU countries and chaired by the European Commission
The endorsement process
The endorsement process involves the following steps
- The IASB adopts a new standard, an amendment to an existing standard or an interpretation of a standard
- The EFRAG provides its advice to the Commission on endorsement
- If the Commission decides to endorse the new standard, interpretation or amendment, it prepares a draft regulation and submit it to the ARC
- If the ARC's opinion is positive, the Commission submits the draft regulation to the European Parliament and the Council for a 3-month scrutiny period
- If there are no objections from the European Parliament or the Council, the Commission adopts the endorsing regulation
Adoption and publication
Regulation (EC) No 1126/2008 codifies IFRS as adopted by the EU. Every time a new standard is endorsed at EU level, the Commission publishes an amending regulation which is directly applicable in all EU countries.
The list of all regulations endorsing IFRS and amending Regulation (EC) No 1126/2008 is available here. Periodically, the Commission draws up a non-binding consolidated version of Regulation (EC) No 1126/2008 which includes all adopted IFRS.
The EFRAG also publishes a status report listing all IFRS, amendments to IFRS and IFRS interpretations endorsed in the EU. The report is regularly updated
At international level, the EU supports the principle of a common set of worldwide accounting standards for listed companies and works with competent authorities all over the world to promote the adoption of IFRS.
As some of its key trading partners have not yet adopted IFRS, the EU accepts the accounting standards of certain non-EU countries as equivalent with IFRS to facilitate cross-border listing. This allows foreign companies listed on EU markets to prepare their financial statements in accordance with IFRS or any other standard which has been declared equivalent to IFRS.
- Decision 2008/961/EC on the use by third countries' issuers of securities of certain third country's national accounting standards and IFRS to prepare their consolidated financial statements (consolidated version including subsequent amendments)
- Regulation (EC) No 1569/2007 establishing a mechanism for the determination of equivalence of accounting standards applied by third countries issuers of securities (consolidated version including subsequent amendments)
- Regulation (EC) No 809/2004 implementing Directive 2003/71/EC on prospectuses (consolidated version including subsequent amendments)