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The race for the €13 billion: Spain, Austria and Italy chase a slice of the Apple pie

Heavily-indebted Spain, which is under threat of an EU fine for breaking spending rules, said it was urgently seeking how much Apple may have denied Spanish taxpayers.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, center, looks on as Margrethe Vestager, now European Competition Commissioner, speaks to Jutta Urpilainen, then Finnish Finance Minister back in 2012.
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, center, looks on as Margrethe Vestager, now European Competition Commissioner, speaks to Jutta Urpilainen, then Finnish Finance Minister back in 2012.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

BUDGET-SQUEEZED EU countries will ask Brussels for a share of the billions in Irish back taxes ordered from Apple, officials said today.

It brings further problems to the tech giant after the lacklustre launch of the iPhone 7.

The European Commission, the EU’s powerful competition regulator, last month ordered Apple to reimburse a record €13 billion in unpaid taxes in Ireland.

As part of its historic decision, which angered Washington, the Commission said other EU countries could also claim a part of the money pot, though doubts on the legality of the claims remain.

Heavily-indebted Spain, which is under threat of an EU fine for breaking spending rules, said it was urgently seeking how much Apple may have denied Spanish taxpayers.

“We are making a huge effort to reduce our public deficit, it is essential that this revenue not get lost,” Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said on the sidelines of two days of talks with his EU counterparts.

Dail returns Gerry Adams hangs an apple in front of a man wearing a Enda Kenny mask outside Leinster House earlier this week. Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Austria

“If it’s legally accurate, you can be sure that as minister of finance I will take it,” Austria’s Hans Joerg Schelling said at the meeting in Bratislava, Slovakia.

We Austrians are looking at it intensively.

Schelling added that other member states – including Italy – were also considering a payout demand.

In its landmark decision on 31 August, the Commission argued that Dublin handed Apple favourable tax terms that amounted to state aid – illegal under its rules.

EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager called Apple’s operations in Ireland a “sham”, designed to funnel revenue from across the globe to avoid paying tax.

“Of course we are examining it,” said Germany’s Wolfgang Schaeuble, the EU’s most powerful finance minister, after two days of talks with his bloc counterparts.

But Schaeuble, like many ministers, said much would depend on what the EU’s still-sealed decision actually contained, adding that he would ask the Commission to clarify the issue at talks next month.

‘No longer’

The European Commission said a tax deal with Ireland allowed Apple paid an effective corporate tax rate of just 0.005% on its European profits in 2014 – equivalent to just €50 for every million.

That low rate “brought home the enormity [sic] of the problem and the enormity [sic] of the challenge that it doesn’t happen again,” said OECD secretary-general Angel Gurria, who has led a global campaign to reform tax laws.

But Gurria, who attended the talks, said “you could not replicate this in Ireland or anywhere else because these types of constructions are no longer” after a wave of reforms championed by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Gurria said that the Commission had clearly opened the door to sharing the tax pot to all countries, including the US.

But any big payday is still a long way off, with both Apple and Ireland committed to appealing the decision.

Last week the Cabinet agreed to turn down the €13 billion decision, despite political opposition here, due to the possible other benefits the money could be used for.

The brewing court battle comes just days after Apple’s unveiling of a new iPhone failed to ignite the usual investor enthusiasm.

The iPhone7, which comes without a headphone jack, sent the company’s shares falling late in the week to a still market-topping value of $572 billion.

© AFP, 2016

Read: Other EU countries could claim a portion of Ireland’s €13 billion in back taxes from Apple

Read: With €13 billion, Ireland could build Metro North, Dart Underground and solve the homeless crisis

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