A legal opinion offers support for the European Commission’s crusade against alleged multinational tax-dodging
A landmark €13 billion tax case involving Apple could have to be re-run, said an opinion produced for the EU’s Court of Justice today (9 November), spelling bad news for the tech giant and its European home of Ireland.
The document produced by Advocate General Giovanni Pitruzzella suggests that the bloc’s highest court may be set to overturn a previous ruling that said there was nothing untoward in the multinational’s Irish tax arrangements.
If the court’s judges echo Pitruzzella’s non-binding opinion it would represent a victory for the European Commission (EC), which has argued that tax deals Ireland struck with Apple were an unlawful subsidy which offered the tech giant the chance to negotiate unfairly low tax rates that distorted competition.
The EU’s General Court “committed a series of errors in law” when it ruled in 2020 that the EC’s antitrust officials had failed to make their case, Pitruzella said, implying the lower tier court should re-assess its decision.
A final judgement from the Court of Justice is due in the coming months, and judges frequently echo the lines proposed in Advocate Generals’ non-binding opinions.
The EC started probing Apple’s tax affairs in 2014. Two years later, Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager concluded the company — whose European headquarters are in Cork, Ireland — had gained an illegal tax benefit by paying an effective corporate tax rate that went as low as 0.005%.
Apple said it complied with Irish tax law and hadn’t cut any special deal. The company faced a bill for as much as €13 billion in allegedly underpaid taxes, plus interest — until the EU’s lower-tier General Court intervened, in a 2020 ruling which the EC then appealed.
If upheld, today’s opinion would represent a success for Vestager, following earlier court rejections of her cases against the likes of Fiat and Starbucks. The Danish politician has now temporarily stepped down from her commission antitrust duties as she bids to head up the European Investment Bank.
Vestager’s campaign against tax-dodging by multinational companies — who are often in practice American — previously prompted President Donald Trump to call her a “tax lady” who “really hates the USA.”
"We thank the court for its time and ongoing consideration in this case,” a spokesperson for Apple told Euronews in an emailed statement. “The General Court’s ruling was very clear that Apple received no selective advantage and no state aid, and we believe that should be upheld."
In a statement, Irish Finance Minister Michael McGrath said his department will now consider the full opinion in detail.
"It has always been, and remains, Ireland’s position that that the correct amount of Irish tax was paid and that Ireland provided no state aid to Apple," McGrath said. "We now await the judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union on this matter."
A spokesperson for the EC declined to comment on the opinion.