Apple ruling highlights how EU governments must do more to clean up murky corporate tax practices

Published: 30th August 2016

The European Commission today announced Apple has received 13 billion euros in illegal state aid from the Irish government. This decision follows the investigations on illegal state aid between the Dutch government and Starbucks, the Luxembourg government and Fiat, and the Belgian government for its ‘excess profit’ tax scheme.

Aurore Chardonnet, Oxfam EU policy advisor on inequality and tax, said:

“This decision shows that some tax practises by EU member states can be terribly damaging. Poverty in Europe has been rising and some EU countries have even had bailout programmes in recent years, so it makes no sense for European governments spurn the chance to raise billions in corporate tax income for the benefit of their citizens.

“These sweetheart deals that let multinationals minimise their tax cannot be tolerated. If people's trust in the tax system is to be restored, European governments must act immediately to end these special deals otherwise people’s trust in the tax system will continue to evaporate.

“So far, the multinationals that have been exposed by the European Commission have only had to pay back their missing taxes – no additional fines have been levied. This is not a sufficient deterrent whatsoever.

“More needs to be done to stop such deals in the future including the disclosure of core elements of tax rulings. In addition, companies must be forced to disclose where they generate their profits and where they pay their taxes. This would give governments and civil society the ability to hold these companies to account.”

Notes to editors

  • The European Commission in 2013 launched investigations into the tax schemes operated by Apple in the Republic of Ireland. Since the early 1990’s Apple received significant tax reductions by way of "tax rulings" issued by the Irish tax authorities. These determined, in advance of intra-group transactions, the amount of tax to be paid by the company. Similar investigation into tax rulings for Amazon and McDonald’s with Luxembourg were launched respectively in 2014 and 2015.
  • According to the European Commission, tax rulings may involve state aid within the meaning of EU rules if they are used to provide selective advantages to a specific company or group of companies.
  • After the Luxleaks documents were made public by whistle-blowers Antoine Deltour and Raphaël Halet in 2014, tax rulings have been exposed as harmful tax practices that permit tax avoidance. The whistle-blowers have been found guilty in a first-instance ruling in June 2016. The case is on-going as the Luxembourg prosecutor appealed the ruling.
  • In October 2015, the European Commission concluded that Luxembourg and the Netherlands had granted selective tax advantages respectively to Fiat and to Starbucks. In her speech, Commissioner Vestager called for a fundamental shift in corporate philosophies.
  • In January 2016, the European Commission has concluded that selective tax advantages granted by Belgium under its "excess profit" tax scheme are illegal under EU state aid rules. The scheme has benefitted at least 35 multinationals mainly from the EU, who must now return unpaid taxes to Belgium.
  • In December 2015, the EU adopted a directive aimed at improving the exchange of information on tax rulings given by member states to companies on advance cross-border tax rulings, as well as advance pricing arrangements. However, the public will not be allowed to access this information.
  • In April 2016, the Commission presented a plan for so-called country-by-country reporting, obliging companies to disclose information on profits made and taxes paid for each country they operate in. However, the proposed rules are too weak to effectively fight tax dodging.
  • Oxfam America has published the report Broken at the Top in April 2016, which specifically examines Apple’s tax practices as one of the US’s 50 largest corporations. In their report Getting to Good of November 2015, Oxfam, Christian Aid, and ActionAid lay out principles for responsible corporate behavior on tax.
  • In March 2015, Oxfam published “Pulling the Plug – How to stop corporate tax dodging in Europe and beyond”, a briefing note that explores ways to fight corporate tax avoidance in the European Union. It explains why it is vital for the EU to adopt legislation against tax dodging as soon as possible.

Contact information

Florian Oel | Brussels | | office +32 2 234 11 15 | mobile +32 473 56 22 60

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