The European Commission has concluded that Ireland granted undue tax benefits of up to €13 billion to Apple. According to a EU Commission announcement, “this is illegal under EU state aid rules, because it allowed Apple to pay substantially less tax than other businesses. Ireland must now recover the illegal aid.”
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.”
Following an in-depth state aid investigation launched in June 2014, the European Commission has concluded that two tax rulings issued by Ireland to Apple have substantially and artificially lowered the tax paid by Apple in Ireland since 1991. The rulings endorsed a way to establish the taxable profits for two Irish incorporated companies of the Apple group (Apple Sales International and Apple Operations Europe), which did not correspond to economic reality: almost all sales profits recorded by the two companies were internally attributed to a “head office”. The Commission’s assessment showed that these “head offices” existed only on paper and could not have generated such profits. These profits allocated to the “head offices” were not subject to tax in any country under specific provisions of the Irish tax law, which are no longer in force. As a result of the allocation method endorsed in the tax rulings, Apple only paid an effective corporate tax rate that declined from 1% in 2003 to 0.005% in 2014 on the profits of Apple Sales International.
According to the Commission, this selective tax treatment of Apple in Ireland is illegal under EU state aid rules, because it gives Apple a significant advantage over other businesses that are subject to the same national taxation rules. The Commission can order recovery of illegal state aid for a ten-year period preceding the Commission’s first request for information in 2013. Ireland must now recover the unpaid taxes in Ireland from Apple for the years 2003 to 2014 of up to €13 billion, plus interest.
“In fact, the tax treatment in Ireland enabled Apple to avoid taxation on almost all profits generated by sales of Apple products in the entire EU Single Market. This is due to Apple’s decision to record all sales in Ireland rather than in the countries where the products were sold. This structure is however outside the remit of EU state aid control. If other countries were to require Apple to pay more tax on profits of the two companies over the same period under their national taxation rules, this would reduce the amount to be recovered by Ireland,” the announcement added.
Irish government disagrees profoundly with the Commissions’ analysis. Irish government sources have argued: “Ireland did not give favourable tax treatment to Apple. Ireland does not do deals with taxpayers… Ireland’s position remains that the full amount of tax was paid in this case and no State aid was provided.”
Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan will now seek Cabinet approval to appeal the Commission decision to the European Courts. Ireland has a period of two months and 10 days to bring an appeal. The Government will now study the decision of the European Commission in consultation with its legal advisors to prepare the grounds for an appeal.
In a statement Noonan said: “I disagree profoundly with the Commission’s decision. Our tax system is founded on the strict application of the law, as enacted by the Oireachtas, without exception.
The decision leaves me with no choice but to seek Cabinet approval to appeal the decision before the European Courts. This is necessary to defend the integrity of our tax system; to provide tax certainty to business; and to challenge the encroachment of EU state aid rules into the sovereign Member State competence of taxation.
It is important that we send a strong message that Ireland remains an attractive and stable location of choice for long-term substantive investment. Apple has been in Ireland since the 1980s and employs thousands of people in Cork. The company has continued to expand its operations in Ireland in recent times.”
For the time being, no fine or penalty has been levied against the Irish State.
Irish government sources noted this decision has no effect on the 12.5% rate of corporation tax and is not about Ireland’s wider corporation tax regime. No other companies are subject to this decision by the European Commission.
Irish government points to a contradiction at the heart of the European Commission’s decision.
The Commission has stated that:
– 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.
– The amount of unpaid taxes to be recovered by the Irish authorities would also be reduced if the US authorities were to require Apple to pay larger amounts of money to their US parent company for this period to finance research and development efforts.
Irish government sources point out: “This illustrates the contradiction at the heart of the European Commission’s decision. While requiring Ireland to recover the tax sums, the Commission is also acknowledging that the sums may in fact be taxable in other jurisdictions.
The European Commission is also incorrect to state that profits allocated to the Apple companies’ head offices were not subject to tax in any country under a specific provision of the Irish tax law. This refers to a mismatch between different countries’ tax rules, which by definition cannot be the responsibility of Ireland alone.
Notwithstanding the right of appeal, Ireland is legally obliged to recover the alleged state aid from Apple in the interim. Given that this money may ultimately have to be returned to the company in the event of a successful appeal, the money can be held in escrow until the case has concluded.
Apple CEO Tim Cook, in a message to the Apple Community in Europe said:
“Thirty-six years ago, long before introducing iPhone, iPod or even the Mac, Steve Jobs established Apple’s first operations in Europe. At the time, the company knew that in order to serve customers in Europe, it would need a base there. So, in October 1980, Apple opened a factory in Cork, Ireland with 60 employees.
At the time, Cork was suffering from high unemployment and extremely low economic investment. But Apple’s leaders saw a community rich with talent, and one they believed could accommodate growth if the company was fortunate enough to succeed.
We have operated continuously in Cork ever since, even through periods of uncertainty about our own business, and today we employ nearly 6,000 people across Ireland. The vast majority are still in Cork — including some of the very first employees — now performing a wide variety of functions as part of Apple’s global footprint. Countless multinational companies followed Apple by investing in Cork, and today the local economy is stronger than ever.
The success which has propelled Apple’s growth in Cork comes from innovative products that delight our customers. It has helped create and sustain more than 1.5 million jobs across Europe — jobs at Apple, jobs for hundreds of thousands of creative app developers who thrive on the App Store, and jobs with manufacturers and other suppliers. Countless small and medium-size companies depend on Apple, and we are proud to support them.
As responsible corporate citizens, we are also proud of our contributions to local economies across Europe, and to communities everywhere. As our business has grown over the years, we have become the largest taxpayer in Ireland, the largest taxpayer in the United States, and the largest taxpayer in the world.
Over the years, we received guidance from Irish tax authorities on how to comply correctly with Irish tax law — the same kind of guidance available to any company doing business there. In Ireland and in every country where we operate, Apple follows the law and we pay all the taxes we owe.
The European Commission has launched an effort to rewrite Apple’s history in Europe, ignore Ireland’s tax laws and upend the international tax system in the process. The opinion issued on August 30th alleges that Ireland gave Apple a special deal on our taxes. This claim has no basis in fact or in law. We never asked for, nor did we receive, any special deals. We now find ourselves in the unusual position of being ordered to retroactively pay additional taxes to a government that says we don’t owe them any more than we’ve already paid.
The Commission’s move is unprecedented and it has serious, wide-reaching implications. It is effectively proposing to replace Irish tax laws with a view of what the Commission thinks the law should have been. This would strike a devastating blow to the sovereignty of EU member states over their own tax matters, and to the principle of certainty of law in Europe. Ireland has said they plan to appeal the Commission’s ruling and Apple will do the same. We are confident that the Commission’s order will be reversed.
At its root, the Commission’s case is not about how much Apple pays in taxes. It is about which government collects the money.
Taxes for multinational companies are complex, yet a fundamental principle is recognized around the world: A company’s profits should be taxed in the country where the value is created. Apple, Ireland and the United States all agree on this principle.
In Apple’s case, nearly all of our research and development takes place in California, so the vast majority of our profits are taxed in the United States. European companies doing business in the U.S. are taxed according to the same principle. But the Commission is now calling to retroactively change those rules.
Beyond the obvious targeting of Apple, the most profound and harmful effect of this ruling will be on investment and job creation in Europe. Using the Commission’s theory, every company in Ireland and across Europe is suddenly at risk of being subjected to taxes under laws that never existed.
Apple has long supported international tax reform with the objectives of simplicity and clarity. We believe these changes should come about through the proper legislative process, in which proposals are discussed among the leaders and citizens of the affected countries. And as with any new laws, they should be applied going forward — not retroactively.
We are committed to Ireland and we plan to continue investing there, growing and serving our customers with the same level of passion and commitment. We firmly believe that the facts and the established legal principles upon which the EU was founded will ultimately prevail.”