BRATISLAVA — The €13 billion clawback of unpaid taxes from U.S. tech giant Apple has piqued the interests of EU finance ministers, who have today asked the European Commission for more details on the potential share of the windfall.
They made the request behind closed doors during a meeting in Bratislava while discussing issues related to tax evasion and financial crime.
Getting a potential slice of the Apple pie stems from the Commission’s open invitation to EU tax authorities, after it announced its decision in late August.
EU countries are now investigating the ruling to decipher whether Apple’s sweet deal with Ireland cut them out of potential tax revenue.
“Of course we’re looking into it,” said the German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. “We’ve agreed that the European Commission will supply us with more information for the next EcoFin [meeting].”
Schäuble’s straight talk approach may have been typical for the German finance minister, but others were more careful before laying a claim to cash they could be owed.
Sources, who have been part of the closed discussions, said that it was Austria and Spain which tentatively called on the EU’s executive arm for more information. Others appeared happy to play the waiting game, sources said.
French Finance Minister Michel Sapin, for example, told colleagues that he had “no intention to send in the troops to get a share” of the €13 billion. No one in the room said they wouldn’t aim to pursue the claims either, sources said.
Despite their cautious approach, Austrian Finance Minister Hans Jörg Schelling had earlier outed the French and Italian intention to get a slice of the pie.
“The Italians, French, and we Austrians are intensively looking into this,” Schelling said ahead of the meeting. “We have to see whether the money belongs to Ireland or other countries.”
EU countries are reluctant to openly demand a share of the windfall as the Commission’s state aid decision against Apple could also work against other tax arrangements that have been made across Europe.
Pierre Gramegna, Luxembourg’s finance minister, told colleagues that the Commission’s “retro-activity issue is very worrying” and that the decision was “not good for tax certainty and attracting foreign investment,” sources said.
Luxembourg is currently in the process of appealing an EU decision against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which is accused of having benefitted from illegal tax deals in the Benelux country.
The Commission’s growing tendency to make “retro-active” decisions in the name of state aid rules is putting EU countries on shaky ground and they are, as a result, unsure how to proceed.
Concerns over a potential U.S. backlash are also holding EU countries back, after the Commission’s decision drew criticism from the U.S. Treasury.
“We believe that retroactive tax assessments by the Commission are unfair, contrary to well-established legal principles and calling into question the tax rules of individual member states,” a spokesperson for the Treasury said following the announcement last month.
The Commission is nonetheless standing its ground, reaffirming its ruling in Bratislava, while trying to reassure U.S. authorities that the move was not an attack against U.S. companies.
“This was not a decision against the United States or against American companies,” the Commissioner for Tax Pierre Moscovici said. “The U.S. is an important partner in the global fight against corporate tax avoidance in the framework of the G20 and I’m confident that we will go on working constructively together in this area.”
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