European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has criticised Apple’s tax deal in Ireland, saying it amounted to tax evasion.
He said Europe does not accept powerful companies getting “illegal backroom deals” on their taxes.
“The level of taxation in a country like Ireland is not our issue. Ireland has the sovereign right to set the tax level wherever it wants. But it is not right that one company can evade taxes that could have gone to Irish families and businesses, hospitals, and schools,” he said.
“The commission watches over this fairness. This is the social side of competition law. And this is what Europe stands for.”
Mr Juncker also warned that the EU is in an “existential crisis” after Brexit and said leaders must pull together to stop it unravelling.
In his annual state of the union address to the European Parliament, Mr Juncker said the EU is not about to disappear — “the EU as such is not at risk” — but its ability to steer common policies has been jeopardised by splits, so it is “at least in part, in an existential crisis”.
Though addressed to mainly sympathetic MEPs in Strasbourg, his message was aimed squarely at the 27 national leaders who will meet in Bratislava tomorrow to try to find a way forward following the decision of the absent 28th member state, Britain, to leave the EU in June’s Brexit referendum.
“Never before have I seen national governments so weakened by the forces of populism and paralysed by the risk of defeat in the next elections,” said Mr Juncker.
“There are splits out there and often fragmentation. That is leaving scope for galloping populism.”
The coming year sees Dutch, French, and German elections, and anti-EU groups are riding high in polls. That limits appetite for big ideas from the commission, however much Mr Juncker sees his role as delivering proposals that governments can unite around.
While leaders are chasing votes by echoing eurosceptic opponents, Mr Juncker said that only by co-operating to revive growth, strengthen trade, fight terrorism, and secure EU borders could they “regain the trust” of citizens in their shared enterprise.
“Europeans are tired of the endless disputes, quarrels, and bickering. Europeans want concrete solutions,” he said.
In an admission of weakness from a man who a year ago tried, but failed, to force countries to accept mandatory quotas of asylum-seekers as a million arrived in Greece, he conceded he lacked power to impose unity and must appeal to states for solidarity.
As a result, the commission offered a legislative programme focused on modest areas of common ground. It included extending the “Juncker plan” for EU seed capital to bolster investment; a smaller scheme to help African business and so, perhaps, ease migration pressure; and reforms to promote the digital economy.
Mr Juncker also highlighted recent EU decisions to show how it was working for ordinary voters — such as by handing Apple the massive tax bill or scrapping planned curbs on mobile phone roaming seen as too soft on big telecom firms.
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