Apple ruling announced

€13 billion. Wow! Nothing to do with transfer pricing. All do with the relationship between the parent companies and their Irish branches. The EC position is that as the ‘stateless’ companies have no substance ALL of the profit is allocated to the Irish branches.  We really are at the races now.

The press release is here.

59 replies on “Apple ruling announced”

“This decision does not call into question Ireland’s general tax system or its corporate tax rate.”

In other words, Ireland can set its corporate tax rate as low as it likes.

Assuming its legally obliged to accept this money, Ireland should use it to reduce general Corporation Tax to, say, 5%. Nothing the EU can do about it.

This is really economic war between booming capitalist America and stagnant socialist Europe. Obvious which side Ireland should be on.

“Obvious which side Ireland should be on.”

Then please leave the EU. You can form an economic and political union with the UK, and all sides would be happier. What you want to do, of course, is have your cake and eat it too. Not going to happen.

I think you are bluffing with that threat. No country can be forced out of the EU. Following Brexit, if Ireland also left (very unlikely and something I’d be opposed to), it would trigger a rush of other countries leaving, i.e. the ones that are pro-enterprise, pro-low business tax, anti-mass immigration from Islamic countries etc. As Lady Bracknell might have said “to lose one country may be regarded as misfortune, to lose two looks like a complete and utter b*lls-up”. The remaining EU (mostly north-Western Europe) would be economically stagnant, based on high taxes and high government spending, increasingly geriatric as their birth rate plummets, and far more focused on their internal ‘Islamic terrorism’ problem than on achieving economic dynamism. There is a lot of envy in some continental countries at present as they are failing on so many fronts. The obvious envy at Ireland’s success in attracting FDI is reminding me a bit of the envy the same countries had at Britain’s success in the Olympics.

However, Ireland should obviously obey the rules, including this one. I haven’t suggested otherwise. Today’s ruling doesn’t particularly bother me. Ireland should certainly appeal and delay it as long as possible but, if the appeal fails, Ireland should accept the 13 billion. I am no lawyer, but I assume Ireland would have no choice in that case. However, there is nothing in the rules to say that this 13 billion can’t be used (over time) to lower business taxes across the board. Meantime, while the appeal is going through, Ireland should highlight the fact that its political culture (across different parties) is opposed to high taxes on business, while obviously other countries are only too eager to regard business as a milch cow for their grandiose social schemes. Apple would have to be out of their mind to invest in the Commissioner’s home country. As for all these posturing ninnies in the EU parliament, no country ever suffered economically from being attacked by socialists.

On a slightly different note, any chance Seamus Coffey will be on tv or radio explaining all this (whether RTE or BBC)? He seems to be the only one who understands it all. So far I’ve only heard the usual rent-a-leftist type of economist talking about it.

Booming capitalist America grew by a stunning 0.8% annualised in H1. May jobs came in at 11,000 versus estimates of 230,000.
July’s job numbers were fudged.

Just listening to the press conference. Margrethe Vestager has said that the €13 billion, if it ever gets paid, will not necessarily all go to Ireland. Other EU countries will be allowed review the case file and put in claims if they think some of the taxes are due to profits earned from sales in their countries. Hence big countries like Germany and France might feel they can take a slice of the pie. She also mentioned that Apple might now have to pay more to its subsidiary in the US for intellectual property etc and hence reduce the scope of any payout further.

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.”
Ireland insists Apple paid all taxes due and denies giving “any favourable treatment”. Michael Noonan, Irish finance minister, said he would seek cabinet approval to appeal against the ruling. “This is necessary to defend the integrity of our tax system, to provide tax certainty to business, and to challenge the encroachment of the EU state aid rules,” he said

Beyond parody

Two things 1. One would presume that Ireland could utilise the cash (if we ever see a cent of it ) as it sees fit. So JtOs suggestion above is quite capable of happening and 2. What happens if Apple refuses to pay and they say to Noonan if we’re forced to pay we’ll definitely leave. What then – an Irexit referendum in protest ??

System wide, low tax plus wage repression plus financial engineering plus layoffs plus ZIRP have led to record levels of corporate profits at a time of stagnant revenues. Consumers don’t get payrises. Net result is low to no growth. US q2 was 1.1%

“”Business cycles consist of recurring alternations of expansion and contraction in aggregate economic activity….The economy seems to be incapable of remaining on an even keel, and periods of expanding activity always and all too soon give way to declining production and employment. Further, and this is the essence of the problem, each upswing or downswing is self-reinforcing. It feeds on itself and creates further movement in the same direction; once begun, it persists in a given direction until forces accumulate to reverse the direction”. (Robert A. Gordon, Business Fluctuations, New York, 1952, p. 214)

Apple is a great bunch of lads but the tax scam has had its day. And Apple has shops that it doesn’t want to have picketed

‘all Commission decisions are subject to scrutiny by EU courts. If a Member State decides to appeal a Commission decision, it must still recover the illegal state aid but could, for example, place the recovered amount in an escrow account pending the outcome of the EU court procedures.’

This is likely to rumble on for years so I doubt if it has any immediate implication for the Irish Exchequer. As a one-off payment. if ever paid, it would effectively reduce the government debt which is just over €200bn, and knock about 5 percentage points off the debt ratio.

A shambolic ruling, regardless on what side of the fence you are on on this issue.

Ireland “must now recover” 13 billion.
“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.

and further

“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.”

So what is the ruling?

It is open season for a free for all.

However, should present the bill to Apple, explaining that they are required to do so. Get first in the queue. This is not a ruling, It is a dog whistle for a free-for-all.

This is quite a pirouette by the Commission away from the issue of transfer pricing cf.

The key consideration must surely now lie in the likely assessment by the ECJ of the following.

“By contrast, fiscal measures that discriminate between taxpayers in a similar factual and legal situation constitute, in principle, State aid.”

The legal precedent cited by the Commission seems, to the non-legal mind, not particularly relevant.

The level of general debate in Ireland has already surpassed its usual standard.

The US reaction:

EC action on Apple tax ruling threatens foreign investment – US Treasury Dept

The US Treasury Department has said it is “disappointed” with how the European Commission is acting in relation to tax investigations, describing the assessments as “unfair”.

In a statement to RTÉ News, a spokesperson said they would not comment on the specific details of the commission’s investigation of Apple’s tax affairs, but said the commission’s actions threatened foreign investment.

The spokesperson said the Treasury Department was “disappointed that the Commission is acting unilaterally and departing from the important progress the US, the EU, and the rest of the international community have made together to combat tax avoidance”.

The spokesperson added that “retroactive tax assessments” like this were “unfair, contrary to well-established legal principles, and call into question the tax rules of individual Member States”.

The Treasury spokesperson said the commission’s actions “could threaten to undermine foreign investment, the business climate in Europe, and the important spirit of economic partnership between the US and the EU”.

The Treasury Department said it will continue to monitor the cases as they progress, and would continue to work with the commission toward the “shared objective of preventing the erosion of our corporate tax bases.‎”

Also, last week Hillary Clinton’s fundraiser in California was hosted by Tim Cook. If Hillary Clinton is elected, the EU Commission will be in full retreat long before the appeal is heard.

She can continue, like Obama, to “urge Congress to act”. Unless corporate America has a sudden conversion in the matter of the influence it undoubtedly exercises on that body, the situation will not change.

The Commission does not do retreats In competition matters.Its authority as a competition authority on a par with that of the US, would be undermined if it did, especially given the administrative nature of the EU system.

It is also curious to hear eminent Irish government representatives say (i) that the Commission is “acting politically”, when it is quintessentially a political body, and (ii) that it has “no role in matters of taxation”, when the relevant heading (Title VII) in the TFEU reads “Common Rules on Competition, Taxation and Approximation of Laws”.


Not sure I understand why you think that isn’t particularly relevant, can you expand?

“selectivity” is the relevant point in connection, they say, with arrangements for the Irish head office.


“12 According to the referring court, in order to determine whether a measure is selective, it is appropriate to examine whether, within the context of a particular legal system, that measure constitutes an advantage for certain undertakings in comparison with others which are in a comparable legal and factual situation. The determination of the reference framework for that purpose has a particular importance in the case of tax measures, since the very existence of an advantage may be established only when compared with ‘normal’ taxation.”

It really strengthens the case for some form of country-by-country reporting by corporations of sales, investment, profits, taxes paid etc

There is some amount of political economy naivety (or Irish-centrism) here. The EU Commission have made a ruling that implements tax justice, and will be welcomed by the vast majority of citizens, small businesses and governments in Europe.

The government cannot claim to have not known what was going on. The global eyes have been on Ireland for a few years, and since the 26% farcical headline, it was somewhat inevitable that the Commission would come down hard on Apple.

I would like to know who advises the government and it’s mandarins, as they are playing a fools game.

It’s not in the electoral interest of any democratic government to be seen to support corporate tax evasion, particularly in a context where income taxes have increased and public services declined. What they are revealing is pure political capture.

Fine Gael and government mandarins seem to have bought the far-left line that corporate tax is all that matters to FDI. They should really spend some time reading the empirical social scientific research on the determinants of high-tech clusters.

The clever response to this ruling by the government would be to publicly accept it, and signal commitment to the existing 12.5%. Then stay quiet. They can signal to Apple that from here on, the government have to adopt a different stance. That’s politics.

In a few days they should acknowledge that it’s important for multibillion companies to pay their fair share. They would be mad to use taxpayers money to challenge this ruling. Rather they should let Apple deal with it.

Apple will not pull out of Ireland, and this rulings not likely to have any effect on inward FDI into existing tech clusters. A Silicon Valley firm thinking about setting up an office Dublin has far more important things to think about, such as whether they can poach someone from Google’s internal labour market, or whether they source a particular local business service.

To win an election requires developing a broad electoral constituency that can act as the political coalition to support an existing economic growth model. Fine Gael don’t seem to realise this.

Ireland has a growth model (US FDI). But the political support for this needs to be grounded electorally (half of Dublin’s high-tech workers don’t even have a vote, so they are not a constituency, despite policies being enacted in their favour). Right now, it would be wise for Fine Gael to stop acting as a mouth piece for the American Chamber of Commerce, and accept the EU ruling.

Ever thought that the Irish government simply has to appeal the verdict, even if it doesn’t really mind if it wins or loses, given the clear importance that tax policy has had on Irish industrial policy over the last 50 years and the aggressive moves by the EU to interfere in what is still a sovereign competence from an EU perspective? For someone whinging about the levels of political naivety going around, you’d do well to look a little in the mirror.

From a system point of view the mix of low tax, wage repression, financial engineering, layoffs and ZIRP that has driven PERs in the US beyond 30 doesn’t actually generate growth. What did Apple do with the money? Buybacks. Deflation threatens bond sustainability. The next crash will be epic.
So things have to change.

This is a landmark decision that may well spur significant corporate tax reform in the US from 2017 for the first time in 31 years.

Credit is due to Commissioner Margrethe Vestager and if not now when should this issue of abuse by giant companies be addressed?

John D. Rockefeller was on a golf course when he was told in 1911 that the Supreme Court had ordered that his group be split into 34 independent firms. “Buy Standard Oil” he was reported to have said and it was wise advice. The likes of Apple can continue to prosper on reasonable rates of tax. Ireland can also.

It’s not new in tax cases for artificial structures to be examined and last year Vestager said:

I certainly hope and expect that member states and companies have got the message that artificial structures and transfer prices, as used in the Starbucks and Fiat cases, are illegal under state aid rules and will be followed up…In most cases, we see a combination of transfer pricing arrangements where companies try to shift profits from high-tax jurisdictions to low-tax jurisdictions via complex artificial structures.

She added that the commission was looking beyond transfer pricing arrangements to examine structures as a whole and what a crazy structure Apple presented: Irish shell companies that the firm decided did not have tax residencies anywhere but could have a leprechaunic pot of gold valued at $216bn at the end of a rainbow in Ireland — in reality most of the cash is in the United States.

Dream on! Maybe it is time to draw attention to the curious world of Uncle Sam and the IRS where everyone, other than the US, is out of step. This study from 1990, courtesy of another US corporate stalwart, Google, will serve the purpose as the basic principle of taxing the income of US citizens, wherever they happen to live, and however organised, have not changed since 1913.

Anyone who takes the time to listen to what Commissioner Verstager had to say on RTE will come to the conclusion that, despite – rather stupid – leading questions being dealt with with ease, she seems more interested in winning the propaganda battle than spelling out coldly the basis for the Commission decision, probably because, on the evidence, it is pretty flimsy.

That she is ahead in the propaganda wars is,however, beyond doubt.

The performance of the national broadcaster is best passed over in silence.



Looking forward to Seamus Coffey’s analysis. As far as I can see he’s the only one with any credibility on this topic.

At first glance it looks to be that the European Commission are out of their minds.

Is it morally wrong that Apple and other big NMC’s pay little to no tax? Yes.
Is the answer to say, ‘bad companies, you should pay more tax’. No, the answer is to change the law.
Is the answer to go back and say that law should have been a different law? No.

It’s wrong the Henry scored that goal with his hand. Can we go back and say the Ref can’t award that goal before consulting a TV replay, no.

Can we do this hence forth, yes.

“No, the answer is to change the law.”

Or you can change the interpretation of the law. Works for me.

Indeed. Anyone spouting “tax justice!” in the context of incredibly complex international taxation laws and their interaction with similarly complex EU treaties should be seen in the correctly ridiculous standing they deserve.

So on Drivetime Paschal Donaghue agrees with the Commission that no, in fact, we can use the monies for capital spending and/or debt reduction. So, thats clarified. Sorta.

More from USA:

The White House has confirmed that Apple officials have been in contact with the Obama administration to report concerns about “how they are being treated by foreign governments”.

Josh Earnest declined to say who exactly had been in touch from Apple and to whom they had spoken.

But he said that the Obama administration had repeatedly reiterated its “willingness to go and fight for” American taxpayers and American businesses overseas who were being “treated unfairly”.

Not clear who they are referring to when complaining about “how they are being treated by foreign governments”. It clearly isn’t the Irish government. Effectively Europe declared economic war on America today. A really really foolish move. Do they seriously expect that America will not retaliate? I advise selling shares in German and French car companies asap. Volkswagen caput. However, I would expect that over the next few years there will be intense negotiations between Europe and America, leading to some sort of deal well before the appeal is heard. This will all be decided at a level way above that of the Irish government. One of the advantages of an appeal is that it buys time for such negotiations to take place.

“Effectively Europe declared economic war on America today. ”

Well, America declared economic war on Europe several years ago, or haven’t you been paying attention?

1/ The Americans have extracted over 100 billion euro from European companies, some on the flimsiest of reasons (the BNP fine could have been 50 miilion Usd rather than 9 billion Usd – the US took that number out of is backside).
2/ With FATCA the Americans have forced European banks to hand over data on European residents to the IRS at great cost to the banks. With citizen-based taxation the US is outside the international norm (only Eritrea does the same) and extracts money from Europeans with little real connection to the US except for the misfortune to have been born there. Money which should be staying in the European economy is being siphoned off to the U.S.

The implications for regional inequality are quite shocking. Cork has always had about 105% of national average GDP per capita, according to the CSO.

Eurostat insists that GDP is up 26% and Ms. Vestager has allocated the entire increase to the Rebel County. Cork is now at 300% of the national average. This is not fair.


Do we know if anybody (publicly) directly confirmed whether Apple were alone in having such arrangements, and if anything (other than not noticing a reasonably apparent strategy) prevented other companies from doing the same?

This would appear more relevant than the noise dominating discussion generally.

@ grumpy

The Apple arrangement only became public because staff were under oath when giving evidence to US Senate investigators.

Apple had companies both in the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands — it closed the latter sometime in the early 2000s.

It did have a big overhaul in its operation in 2006 and the foreign tax rate began to fall from 12% in 2002 to 2% in 2012.

The last consolidated foreign accounts filed in respect of 2004, before becoming unlimited show that Apple’s tax was calculated at 12.5% on its global profit before after offsets for payments elsewhere and manufacturing relief.

It appears that the most recent arrangement dates from about a decade ago.

Microsoft opened two Irish subsidiaries in Bermuda in 2001.

Companies have different arrangements: Intel is a branch of a Cayman Islands parent while Pfizer is owned by a Dutch partnership.

Pfizer has managed to report losses in the US in recent years and while in 2014 it reported an effective global tax rate of 25% it was really 7.5% according to The Wall Street Journal.

Companies do not typically disclose what they actually pay in taxes in their accounts.

@ grumpy

I think you have got to the heart of it in those comments. Ireland joined the EC, which, as @DOCM regularly reminds us, is a club with rules..

1 Did the tax arrangements which Ireland offered to Apple constitute illegal state aid, thereby disadvantaging competitors ? The Commission says it did, so it now falls to Ireland and Apple to show otherwise..

2 Which other firms were given given similar tax deals ? The ordinary citizen, at home or abroad, knows what an ‘arrangement’ is, and why secrecy is generally de rigeur.

As US Justice Brandeis said in 1913 ‘Sunlight is the best disinfectant’.


Given the disproportionate amount of FDI Ireland has been able to attract over the years relative to its size suggests that Apple is possibly one of many arrangements that the Commission would go after. Its rather naïve to believe there aren’t others out there. I think the game could be up if the Commission succeeds here in actually winning this one.

The questions however which I don’t see being asked are 1. Do the Commission have previous form in relation to these illegal state aid cases i.e. how many such cases have they fought by the Commission and what’s their record and 2. Have they ever used the special tax advantage angle as a route to establishing illegal state aid before now.

If the answer to the above questions is Yes and in particular if the answer to 1 is exceptionally good then the Irish Govt should take the cash and interest from Apple and quietly shut up.

One of the features of late neoliberalism is incoherence. For example the GOP lost its voters because what the elite wanted was not wanted by the base. Trump ran away with them. Or you can take Brexit.

Now the Irish Times rows in with an op ed for the ages

But Apple has its own problems. It does not want to be the poster child for tax scams

Taxpayers are its source of revenue

The Irish Government learnt nothing from the bank guarantee which was a similar pro MNC anti citizen arrangement executed behind the back of the EC.

And it blew up spectacularly .
The bailout was marked by pretty harsh treatment from the ECB. Was it a quid pro quo ?
Behind it all is the spectre of deflation. Low taxes do not generate growth. They feed buybacks.

It is worth noting that the leading Dutch financial newspaper, Financiele Dagbladet, while praising Verstager for resisting US pressure, is critical of her reference to other countries possibly having claims, pointing out, quite reasonably, that were this to be the case then the implication would be that the relevant tax authorities were also remiss in the their application of national tax law, although noting that the Commissioner had qualified her remarks by stating that this issue was not a matter for the Commission. (If so, why raise it?).

It is, of course, up to member states to ensure that EU law, where it applies, is observed. The Commission’s case is based on the very narrow issue of selectivity. If there has been none, the conclusion must be that other companies were treated in exactly the same way by the Revenue Commissioners although, as the Commissioner pointed out on RTE, the tax rulings of Revenue are, by definition, individual to each company. One must assume, therefore, that they are uniform in terms of application of national law. This is the crux of the issue.

It is hard to avoid the impression that the Commission may have been railroaded into an untenable position by the one member whose portfolio has traditionally been the most independent, a position to be treated with caution.

A lot of issues raised by the ruling.

1. According to the Commission ‘this decision does not call into question Ireland’s general tax system or its corporate tax rate’ although the Irish government has reacted as if it does. The State could decide that it’s a one-off issue relating to a past agreement which is no longer operative and move on.

2. The ruling raises questions about the validity of the EU decision and whether it is acting ultra vires,,supporting the case for appeal by Ireland. Two similar investigations are in train involving Luxembourg (but not Apple).

3. Apple has stated it will appeal anyway so no money will be available to the Exchequer for some time, probably up to 5 years.. The Commission may look very different then as well.

4. I suspect, as noted in an earlier post, that any money eventually payable by Apple will be deemed a one-off payment and not included in the General Government balance and hence not available to fund current or capital spending and tax reductions. The Exchequer balance would be affected, so the NTMA could buy back existing debt or abstain from issuance for a while. However, Eurostat would have the final say.

I see that the Irish Times and Trinity College, Dublin are pushing very strongly for Ireland to increase its business taxes – at the very time when its chief competitor, the U. Kingdom, is sharply reducing its business taxes. Why does this not surprise me in the least? Given both these bodies’ historic links to the Mother Country, I’d be amazed if it was otherwise. I’m sure there is a special section in MI5 (commercial wing) dedicated to persuading other countries to make themselves less competitive and the U. Kingdom more competitive.

The long-term objective of the U. Kingdom to reduce Corporation Tax post-Brexit needs to be taken seriously by the Irish Government. Yesterday’s ruling confirmed that Ireland’s right to set its own Corporation Tax rate is unaffected. Ireland is currently in a much stronger financial position than the U. Kingdom, with a virtually zero deficit v approx 4% over there. Ireland should declare immediately its intention to cut Corporation Tax in coming years and to match any cut the U. Kingdom makes. If forced to accept the 13 billion, it should use the money to finance the cut, but it should go ahead with the cut regardless as the economy improves.

I should have added Sinn Fein to the list as well. No prizes for guessing who controls them.

As a board member of TCD I can state with absolute confidence that we have no view whatsoever on the issue of the optimal level of business taxes. But, lets not let facts get in the way of a good breathless conspiracy.

@ Seamus Coffey

As you know, Apple designates 65% of its annual earnings as foreign-sourced but it also says most of its profit is generated in the US.

However, in your Irish Examiner piece you dwell on the latter but you ignore the former, which is surely relevant — inconvenient fact I guess??

It’s Apple that says 65% of its earnings are outside the US!!

You also avoid reference to Apple’s use of Irish shell companies and its questionable (dodgy?) secret designation of these fake/paper entities as stateless for tax purposes.

So Apple to avoid US taxes, uses fake Irish companies to route most of what it calls foreign earnings – $47bn in 2015 – through them tax free and as you don’t seem to have an issue with tax avoidance, appear to selectively argue your case to the public.

The EC looks at the company ASI (Apple Sales International) which has no real world existence but it has an Irish branch and the EC decides that ASI is a sham in the ether and looks at all the foreign funds (of course most of these are just accounting transactions made in the US ) as being transferred via not an artificial entity but through the Irish branch.

Wonder why you haven’t replied to Aidan Regan’s question on your other current thread? “I have posed this question to you before, and I’m still curious to hear your answer,” he said.

The national broadcaster finally gets around to identifying the central question and in putting it to someone (Professor Gavin Barrett of UCD) who actually knows what he is talking about when replying.

Meanwhile, our nearest neighbour having completely lost the European plot, we seem well on the way to doing the same.

There’s a lot of celebration going on over what we might do with 13 billion euros. But if the ruling stands then clearly we don’t deserve to receive this money, since Apple would never have concentrated its profits here if they’d thought they’d have to pay tax. In fact most of it belongs in the US which is where the value of Apple products is created. Given the size of the row going on, it is quite possible that the EU and the US will come to an arrangement where all or most of the funds are returned to the US, or to other jurisdictions where value and profits were actually created, as the ruling hints. And those who chase Leprechauns will once again be left empty handed at the end of the rainbow.

Since Ireland told Apple they would not have to pay tax, we should stand by our word and appeal this ruling if at all possible, rather than folding our tent at the first of trouble. If we lose, we should not count on receiving 13 billion euro.

@Finfacts, Aidan Regan

I don’t think Seamus Coffey owes anyone a reply to your debating points. I have found that Seamus Coffey’s own blog and his posts on this site in relation to corporate tax are remarkable in that they offer completely dispassionate explanations of what’s going on. He is neither defending nor attacking but simply explaining what is happening. That is unusual compared to other economists’ blogs I have read which are generally flogging some viewpoint – left wing or right wing. I have no idea if Seamus Coffey is against the decision of the EU Commission, is in favour of it, or has strong views on international corporate taxation. That is the way it should be. I appreciate this is disappointing to someone who wants the equivalent of a shouting match but isn’t going to change his mind anyway. All I want are the facts and I’ll make up my own mind.

you know what it’s called the Rebel County? Because they backed Perkin Warbeck, a different claimant to the English throne in the 15th century.

They have a lot to answer for Peadar. The North Cork Militia togged out with the Redcoats in ’98.

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