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European Union v Apple and the US

Written By: - Date published: 8:02 am, September 1st, 2016 - 49 comments
Categories: business, capitalism, Europe, Financial markets, Globalisation, tax, us politics - Tags: , ,

The EU and the EC just sent a major pro-unity signal to the world.

One of the reasons countries group together is so they can ward off predatory multinational corporations, as Ireland is finding out.

Yesterday the European Commission released the results of its investigation into Apple’s tax liability in Ireland, and said that Apple must pay US$14.6 billion for skirting taxes. The EC determined that such a low tax rate was illegal because it created an illegal trade incentive.

There’s quite a lot you can do to help people in the EU with US$14.6billion. So that’s quite a lot the people had kept from them by Apple and the Irish government.

The decision will send shockwaves through the boardrooms of companies like Amazon and McDonalds that have extensive operations in Europe. Both are now being investigated for tax liability.

Both Apple and the Irish government intend to appeal the decision.

And now, apparently unrelated, the German Vice Chancellor has stated that a free trade deal between the European Union and the United States is pretty much dead.

The negotiations with the U.S. have de facto failed because we as Europeans naturally cannot submit to American demands.”

He added that in 14 rounds of talks, negotiators had not reached agreement on a single one of the 27 areas in the deal.

It’s not as if Germany isn’t committed to free trade, and he cited the free trade agreement with Canada, CETA, which is already largely negotiated and has similar provisions to those in the TTIP.

Even when the EU was more confident of settling the TTIP in July this year, they completely rejected the Investor State Dispute Settlement framework. Gianni Pittelli, the EU leader of the S&D group in the European Parliament, said in July:

ISDS is dead. It must be replaced by a new public and transparent system of investment protection, in which private interests cannot undermine public policy and which is subject to public law.”

That means actual judges.

I am sure Apple and the U.S. are remembering such statements now. A unified Europe is a fearless Europe, and they will never give up on the rule of law no matter how big you think you are. We can just imagine how this tax ruling would have gone if the EU had signed up to the TTIP and instead of being held to investigators driven by public policy, they could jack up their own hand-picked tribunal members and get away with it.

The two moves together – against Apple and against the U.S. – are no coincidence. This is a signal from remaining Europe that they still have the strength to muscle up and take anyone in the world on. The biggest country, the biggest taxpaying corporation. It’s also a major internal disciplinary signal to Ireland and others that they will be held to account if they undercut other members: tax will be enforced as the primary redistributive force, and such discipline will reinforce the strength of public policy itself to be done and be seen to be done. Ireland knew the rules, broke them, and was found out.

We could still see Obama force through our own TTP during his “lame duck” session. But at least in Europe, the case for rule-of-law internationalism, not unfettered corporate internationalism, has been put out there in neon to countries and corporations alike. Our own government stands exposed, while the EU stands up to them.

For those like Britain who want to break that unity, the signal is that they will no longer have the backing of the collective to stand up to the great political and corporate powers of the world. For those who stay inside the EU, follow the rules and you will be protected from biggest and toughest players on the planet. For the US and others, the word to them is clear: Union.

49 comments on “European Union v Apple and the US”

  1. Nck 1

    ShonKey doesn’t mind selling NZ (breaking up bits and selling them off corporate raider style) , because it’s just a commission based transaction to him….. That’s been his whole life and (non) substance. Like the Irish Govt.

    • AmaKiwi 1.1

      @ Nck

      True BUT . . . I think for Key & Co. it is a visceral hatred of anything controlled by bureaucrats.

      As Reagan said, “Government is not the solution. Government is the problem.” Therefore Key & Co.’s life’s work is to abolish all government oversight and privatize all government operations. The world is reaping the social destruction caused by their simplistic stupidity.

  2. Infused 2

    “For those like Britain who want to break that unity, the signal is that they will no longer have the backing of the collective to stand up to the great political and corporate powers of the world. For those who stay inside the EU, follow the rules and you will be protected from biggest and toughest players on the planet. For the US and others, the word to them is clear: Union.”

    Why would they want it? The EU telling Ireland what to do? This is exactly why Brexit was needed.

    • Infused 2.1

      No edit anymore?

      Also, you’re kidding yourself if you think those billions would go to the people of the EU.

      • lprent 2.1.1

        Edit should be there (there is a new one). Testing

        Edited: Yep. I see “Click to edit” on firefox (and chrome).

        Try a shift or ctrl F5 to force a cache refresh. But I should already have forced the caches to update.

        Otherwise what browser/OS are you using?

      • George Hendry 2.1.2

        ‘Also, you’re kidding yourself if you think those billions would go to the people of the EU.’

        Quite right – the people of the EU could well be disappointed.

        Here’s an idea. Simply leave the billions with Apple, the benevolent entity already known for having kept them from the people of the EU (and NZ, etc, etc )…

        • Ad 2.1.2.1

          Ahhhh, what to do for people with real taxation from Apple, Amazon, McDonald’s, Starbucks …

          Such a lovely question.

        • dukeofurl 2.1.2.2

          The EU does see a way for the member states to have a share of the Apple pie that Ireland is supposed to collect’

          “The amount of unpaid taxes to be recovered by the Irish authorities would be reduced if other countries were to require Apple to pay more taxes on the profits recorded by Apple Sales International and Apple Operations Europe for this period. This could be the case if they consider, in view of the information revealed through the Commission’s investigation, that Apple’s commercial risks, sales and other activities should have been recorded in their jurisdictions

          http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-16-2923_en.htm
          The bigger economies would see many billions of tax that should come their way and feel they are more deserving than ungrateful Ireland

    • Ad 2.2

      If Ireland lose the appeal, there will be a debate about splitting from the EU.

      Winner from split: every single multinational corporation you can name.

      • dukeofurl 2.2.1

        Its the reverse, the EU free market was the reason they set up in Ireland to start with.
        Take that away and you cant as easily allocate sales and profits to a business outside EU

  3. Colonial Viper 3

    This is quite the incorrect conclusion. The EU is not the saviour of anything.

    The people of Germany and France have told their national governments to fuck off with the TTIP.

    Hence German economic Minister and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has said that TTIP talks have effectively collapsed and French Minister of State for Foreign Trade Matthias Fekl has said that TTIP talks must be abandoned and new discussions on a new agreement started in the future.

    if you left it to the unelected Eurocrats in Brussels, TTIP would still be allowed to limp along for another dozen rounds of useless talks as the unaccountable bureaucracy keeps pushing ahead with their globalisation agenda.

    • Ad 3.1

      Indeed the two could be entirely coincidence. (I dont think so).

      The collective effects are the same irrespective.

      • Colonial Viper 3.1.1

        And even so, France and Germany have always been the powerhouses of the EU (and Euro Zone) they have the most say over its affairs and positions.

        The UK’s relative lack of leverage is a big reason that the Brits have always kept a skeptical eye on the EU (and Euro Zone).

        Britain doesn’t need the EU to give it the backbone to stand up to City of London and Corporate interests.

        It needs a decade of Labour rule which isn’t by Blairite Right Wingers.

        • Ad 3.1.1.1

          So Brexit needs to happen (many years away)….
          then Labour needs to win an election (a further 2 + terms away) … but only if there’s a comprehensive clean out of its MPS (best of luck there) …
          then maybe they’ll stand up to multinational corporates ….
          …..a decade or three gone, if ever ……

          Or the EC could keep doing what it’s doing right now. Holding the Plutocracy to task.

          • Draco T Bastard 3.1.1.1.1

            Or the EC could keep doing what it’s doing right now. Holding the Plutocracy to task.

            While keeping the policies that keep the plutocracy in power.

            • Ad 3.1.1.1.1.1

              And wait for the overthrow of everything so everything sparkle shiny.

              If you want, set out an alternative to the EU and EC that successfully takes on Apple and the US. Meantime, The EU and EC aren’t waiting for the Great Leap Forward.

          • Cemetery Jones 3.1.1.1.2

            “Or the EC could keep doing what it’s doing right now. Holding the Plutocracy to task.”

            Good lord.

        • Adrian 3.1.1.2

          CV Exactly right, unfortunately the Tories are positioning themselves to keep Labour from gaining power with the aid of their dodgy electoral boundaries.
          Although that being said, you can’t help wondering whether many third way labour members wouldn’t more comfortable with a Tory victory, than a real socialist left in power, in certainly seems closer to the dark heart of their core politics.

    • spikeyboy 3.2

      The Eu may not be the saviour of anything but they will crtainly have rattled the cage of the empire. Empire doesn’t give a rats arse about whether or not americans benefit from apple tax dodges but empire does care that its tentacles are potentially being clipped. Europe will now have to pay for this trepidation. Expect the empire to increase agitation in France or some other target that they can chip out of the union. Divide and rule is the old axiom. Disruption, physical violence, fear should do the trick. The empire could only tolerate a united europ for so long anyway…

  4. dukeofurl 4

    The nux of the tax evasion by Apple had them move virtually all their IP to Ireland because of its low company tax rates ( 12.5%), but Apple wasnt happy with that in it came up with a side deal with Ireland so that most of that income wasnt taxed at all.

    • Macro 4.1

      But they they paid tax at 0.005% in the dollar. I mean how ruinous is that!
      What get’s me is that they even found a 12.5% rate too hard to pay. 🙄
      As for the US I can’t understand what they are worried about – it’s not as if Apple pays them their fair share of taxes either! Last year Apple had shipped around $200 Billion off shore to the Cayman Islands to avoid paying taxes in the US.
      I use Apple products
      I’m thinking of changing.

      • Draco T Bastard 4.1.1

        I use Apple products
        I’m thinking of changing.

        I avoid Apple products like the plague. One of the reasons for that is their attempts to avoid sticking to standards that anyone can use. The other is that they rip off societies.

        • ianmac 4.1.1.1

          I use Apple too but I wonder if the others also abuse the taxes?

          • Draco T Bastard 4.1.1.1.1

            They probably do. In fact, we know that they do. We, ATM, don’t have the choice of using a corporation that doesn’t abuse the tax system.

        • Anno1701 4.1.1.2

          havent used an apple product for 20+ years,

          not into exploitation of labour thanks..

  5. Draco T Bastard 5

    For those like Britain who want to break that unity, the signal is that they will no longer have the backing of the collective to stand up to the great political and corporate powers of the world.

    Independent nations have that power anyway. It’s the FTAs that are undermining it.

    Get rid of the FTAs, put in place standards that other nations and corporations need to meet to be able to trade with a country and they then maintain that power that you think that they don’t have.

    How well would Apple do if they couldn’t sell their products anywhere because they didn’t meet those standards?

    • Ad 5.1

      Love to see NZ stand up to China without its FTA in place.

      • Draco T Bastard 5.1.1

        Quite easy really – just stop trading with them. It’s the FTA that prevents us from doing that.

        • Ad 5.1.1.1

          Or massive import and export demand.
          They are by a long way our biggest customer and importer.
          Also one of our largest investors.

          So no, not simple.

          And no, we would never have the diplomatic or economic strength to do it.

          • Draco T Bastard 5.1.1.1.1

            Or massive import and export demand.
            They are by a long way our biggest customer and importer.
            Also one of our largest investors.

            None of which we need.

            And no, we would never have the diplomatic or economic strength to do it.

            But we do because we have the resources to support ourselves.

  6. Pat 6

    The solution is for countries to enforce realistic accounting procedures in their own jurisdictions…..then sweetheart deals in Ireland (or wherever) will be of no use to the transnationals. Apparently Australia has recently moved in this direction, we however continue to sit on our hands in the hope we will somehow benefit by turning a blind eye.

  7. Bill 7

    Not quite sure I follow the logic here.

    Ireland, as a part of the EU and EZ dropped its tax rate and was lauded at the time as being a ‘tiger’ economy or some such. Then came the GFC.

    Now it , not other European countries, stands to gain $US 14.6 billion in back taxes (plus penalties). Well, except the size of the payment will decided by the Irish treasury or whatever and not Brussels. And, of course, Apple and others acting in solidarity with Apple will threaten to withdraw any of their operations and HQs from Ireland if the cost is considered onerous. ( Apparently 10% of Ireland’s workforce is employed by multi-national corporations – several thousand employed by Apple)

    So, no shockwaves in boardrooms and no financial gain for any people in the EU bar (and only perhaps) the Irish.

    What I’m not seeing is how dropping the already low tax rate from 12% tax rate even lower equates to any breaking of rules, except….it was a lower rate for Apple than for other multi-national companies operating within Ireland.

    And that’s the kicker. Ireland can decide that all multi-national companies pay 1% tax or whatever and there will be no issue. The ruling is very much a free trade ruling and nothing to do with any concern about Irish (or other EU) citizens being ripped off.

    • Ad 7.1

      There’s more detailed commentary on the breakdown of the wrongdoing by Gordon Campbell on http://www.scoop.co.nz today.

      Also, it’s a precedent for all EU countries; Ireland is the example.

    • dukeofurl 7.2

      The US Congress did an investigation into Apples practices in Ireland and The EU has followed it up.

      Essentially on a small portion of the profit booked in Ireland was subject to the 12% tax rate, as Apple and the Irish government agreed in advance what that would be and they allowed Apple to use ‘stateless subsidaries’ for the bulk of its profits were the tax was much much lower
      It seems that the EU has decided Ireland has done this so it can creat jobs in Ireland, thats where it becomes ‘illegal state aid’

      Apple’s stateless subsidiaries lower tax bills- Senate report [this was back in 2013]
      “Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations identified three subsidiaries that have no “tax residency” in Ireland, where they are incorporated, or in the United States, where company executives manage those companies.
      The main subsidiary, a holding company that includes Apple’s retail stores throughout Europe, has not paid any corporate income tax in the last five years.
      The subsidiary, which has a Cork, Ireland, mailing address, received $29.9 billion in dividends from lower-tiered offshore Apple affiliates from 2009 to 2012, comprising 30 percent of Apple’s total worldwide net profits, the report said.”
      http://www.reuters.com/article/usa-tax-apple-idUSL2N0E117320130520

      “Atop Apple’s offshore network is a subsidiary named Apple Operations International, which is incorporated in Ireland — where Apple had negotiated a special corporate tax rate of 2 percent or less in recent years — but keeps its bank accounts and records in the United States and holds board meetings in California.

      Because the United States bases residency on where companies are incorporated, while Ireland focuses on where they are managed and controlled, Apple Operations International was able to fall neatly between the cracks of the two countries’ jurisdictions.

      Apple Operations International has not filed a tax return in Ireland, the United States or any other country over the last five years.
      http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/21/business/apple-avoided-billions-in-taxes-congressional-panel-says.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

      • Bill 7.2.1

        It seems that the EU has decided Ireland has done this (sweetheart deal) so it can create jobs in Ireland, thats where it becomes ‘illegal state aid’.

        Yup. And “illegal state aid” is a free trade concept. Whereas the post seemed to suggest there was some fig of concern for ordinary people in the EU.

        That same “illegal state aid” applies to a government running railways, ferries etc. They must put those services out to tender under European rules.

        I’m pretty damned sure that if every company operating in Ireland was offered the same deal as Apple, then there’d be no case taken and none to answer.

        • dukeofurl 7.2.1.1

          The EU is unique in that to belong you agree both free movement of goods and services and a certain level playing field on their companies.

          The members are allowed to set their own tax rates and even provide ‘state aid’ under their rules to some extent. UK paid for a new factory in Northern Ireland for the Canadian company Bombardier to build wings for a new airliner, and Airbus has had many freebies over the years from France Germany , Britain.

          Irelands deal, and I think this happened to some extent with Luxembourg, was to offer a zero deal on taxes for what was just a paper company run by Apple.

          the ins and outs of the deal with Ireland are not all that clear to outsiders but EUs competition watchdog has a lot of teeth and has wisely used them on the biggest tax cheat in the world.

  8. NZJester 8

    The US should be going after Apple themselves.
    The way the Apple tax scam has been working is well known.
    All the goods made in China are sold to their Irish subsidiary at cost price.
    All their other subsidiaries and Apples main company then buy their products from the Irish subsidiary at a heavily marked up price. They then add on a very small markup and sell it in their stores. On paper the tax payable on the profits made on those goods in the country of sale is very small as the bulk of the profit is shown to have been made in Ireland. In reality none of the goods go anywhere near Ireland but are shipped as direct as possible from the Chinese factories to the final county of sale. Apple is cheating a lot of countries out of tax using this big legal loophole in international tax law. They do this as Ireland offers them a sweet tax deal. Ireland is basically stealing tax money from other countries by offering them that lower tax deal.

  9. save nz 10

    “The commission found Apple’s effective rate of corporation tax at one subsidiary in Ireland was just 0.005% of its profits in 2014 – equal to a tax bill of just €50 on each €1m of profit.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/sep/01/apple-tax-ruling-fundamentally-unfair-former-ec-competition-chief

    You have to wonder how there can be a ‘level playing’ field for companies if some like Apple only pay .005% of profits and local companies are paying 35% (or more) of profits.

    And they will litigate it and litigate it, and then already the ‘experts’ are saying nothing to see here, move on.

    How is that difference in tax rates competitive and encouraging competition?

    • dukeofurl 10.1

      In a sense there were two tax rates for Apple in Ireland. 12.5% for a small portion allocated to Irish revenue and zero for the rest from other EU countries.
      The Irish are denying it because they allowed Apple to have a subsidiary that was stateless.
      This was agreed between the two parties, but of course Apple had all the say.

      There is echos in this arrangement between Apple and Ireland and the situation with NZ and ‘our’ foreign trusts. because we dont look into it, these trusts are essentially stateless too. But we dont get 5000 Apple employees for our trouble.

  10. save nz 11

    And finally an article from

    Robert Reich: Don’t criticize Europeans for standing up to Apple — thank them
    Rather than another tax amnesty, we need a crackdown on corporate tax avoidance like Europe did for Apple

    http://www.salon.com/2016/09/01/robert-reich-do-not-criticize-europeons-for-standing-up-to-apple-thank-them_partner/

    Ok then, so the US government is now seriously thinking about giving another tax amnesty in the US, so they the biggest tax avoiders can legally pay, less than 6% tax – against Moms and Dad companies and employees who pay 35%.

    Does that sound fair and a level playing field, or rewarding and encouraging companies for tax avoidance?

  11. dukeofurl 12

    This is the EU press release on their decision

    “Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “Member States cannot give tax benefits to selected companies – this is illegal under EU state aid rules. The Commission’s investigation concluded that Ireland granted illegal tax benefits to Apple, which enabled it to pay substantially less tax than other businesses over many years. In fact, this selective treatment allowed Apple to pay an effective corporate tax rate of 1 per cent on its European profits in 2003 down to 0.005 per cent in 2014.”
    http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-16-2923_en.htm
    cant see Ireland offering 0.005% tax rate for all companies.

    The release gives a good summary of what Apple does worldwide. It notes that Ireland did give two special tax rulings in 1991 and then replaced in 2007.
    It seems they new the game was up as they ended the ruling in 2015

    But this was the Crux of the scam
    ” This “head office” was not based in any country and did not have any employees or own premises. Its activities consisted solely of occasional board meetings. Only a fraction of the profits of Apple Sales International were allocated to its Irish branch and subject to tax in Ireland. ”

    There is pressure from the larger economys for the EU to shut down its small countries which operate as tax havens
    “EU: Shut Tax Havens With Minimum Rate
    The European Union is considering imposing a minimum tax rate on companies across the 28-nation bloc, Handelsblatt has learned. Germany and France are for the plan, but small countries with low rates like Ireland and Luxembourg are not happy.”

    global.handelsblatt.com/edition/183/ressort/finance/article/a-tax-collision-course

  12. dukeofurl 13

    Its interesting that US vested interest have tried to spin this as anti-US companies deal

    However the previous biggest demand to repay ‘illegal state aid’ was the French energy giant ( and state owned to boot) EDF which had to cough up €1.37 bill.

    That was over ‘tax deals’ as well
    http://www.euractiv.com/section/competition/news/brussels-orders-edf-to-return-1-37-billion-in-state-aid/

    The french hardly blinked and didnt appeal

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