Friday 20 April 2018

€13bn a win-win-win situation, says bemused MEP

Margrethe Vestager, the competition commissioner of the European Commission Photo: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg
Margrethe Vestager, the competition commissioner of the European Commission Photo: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg

Sarah Collins

There is widespread bafflement in Europe at the Irish Government's decision to appeal the EU's Apple tax ruling.

One German MEP joked yesterday that we should "take the money and run".

"Dear Mr President of Ireland, if you still believe that Apple will create some jobs in Ireland - forget it. Apple only ever had one Jobs, but he is dead," said Martin Sonneborn, an MEP for Germany's satirical Die Partei party.

"€13bn will buy you many, many iPhones. This will generate more tax income for Ireland, then you can buy even more iPhones - it's a win-win-win situation. Think it over with a good bottle of whiskey. Sláinte."

At a special debate on Apple yesterday, MEPs roundly endorsed the EU's ruling that Ireland gave the US tech giant illegal tax breaks amounting to €13bn.

"Member states cannot give unfair tax benefits and thereby selectively favour certain companies," European Commission competition chief Margrethe said during the debate, which took place at the European Parliament's second seat in Strasbourg.

"If a benefit is handed out as a selective benefit to a particular company, it has to be taken back.

"It's not retroactivity. Not a single rule has been changed. The only secrecy here was the tax ruling."

Earlier in the day, Ms Vestager's boss, Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, had called out Apple's "illegal backroom deals" in written remarks released to the media.

"Every company, no matter how big or small, has to pay its taxes where it makes its profits," he said.

"This goes for giants like Apple too, even if their market value is higher than the GDP of 165 countries in the world.

"In Europe we do not accept powerful companies getting illegal backroom deals on their taxes.

"The level of taxation in a country like Ireland is not our issue. Ireland has the sovereign right to set the tax level wherever it wants, but it is not right that one company can evade taxes that could have gone to Irish families and businesses, hospitals and schools.

"The commission watches over this fairness. This is the social side of competition law. And this is what Europe stands for."

It emerged last weekend that Spain, Austria and Germany are looking into whether they are entitled to a share of the Apple tax bill.

This follows a suggestion by Ms Vestager that they use the commission's decision to investigate whether the US tech giant should have booked more of its sales in countries other than Ireland, and therefore paid more taxes there.

"It is the responsibility of the member states to make sure that national tax legislation, which is 100pc a national issue, is upheld at the same time as what we have decided in common," Ms Vestager said.

Irish MEP Marian Harkin said it was "not good enough for the commission to put this money in front of our noses while refusing to clarify if it will be ours to spend".

Irish Independent

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