The decision on whether Ireland granted illegal state aid to Apple and should receive many millions of euro back from the US multinational will not now be made next month, European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager has said.
Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes was critical of the delay but the former Danish economy minister said getting information from the four member states on the five cases open was “challenging and time consuming”.
She told independent MEP Marian Harkin that what was needed was a common corporate tax base where companies across Europe fill in just one return.
The commission is revising its proposal on this and is expected to remove the contentious “consolidated” element from the draft.
Ms Harkin afterwards told the Irish Examiner that Ireland had a fine balancing act to remain attractive to multinationals but allowing them avoid paying their fair share of tax was unfair especially to SMEs in a time of austerity and cut backs.
“We need to be able to look people in the eye,” she said, but the EU could not move ahead alone for fear of losing companies and at the same time member states should not be facilitating tax avoidance that affects the funds available for the common good, like health.
Last week Apple HQ inCalifornia warned their earnings could be affected if they had to pay taxes to Ireland after the commission investigation, saying the sum would be “material”.
The commissioner told the special European Parliament committee investigating countries allowing multinationals minimise or avoid paying tax, that she is having problems too finding out how many companies are involved.
Ms Vestager said that they are looking at 65 cases in 15 countries to see if they are legal but she has received no details from Poland, the Czech Republic and Estonia.
The commissioner would not say when she expected to have completed her investigations into Ireland’s deal with Apple, Luxembourg’s deals with Fiat and Amazon, the Netherland’s arrangements with Starbucks and Belgium’s tax rules.
“Since opening last summer, obtaining information is very challenging and time consuming, we do not necessarily get the information we ask for the first or second time either. It is among our priorities but while fast is better than slow, the best is being just and I will not give a new fixed deadline”, she said.
Ireland had changed the double Irish tax arrangement that allowed companies to avoid tax, while Luxembourg had made changes to its regime, both of which were welcome, and, she hoped, would inspire others to make changes.
However, she said for the future more is needed to ensure multinationals did not get special conditions that meant smaller companies or those in other countries could not compete fairly.
Greater transparency is crucial, she said, and noted this is being addressed by the draft legislation proposed last month by the making it mandatory for countries to swop the details on the tax arrangements they agree with businesses.
The parliament’s tax committee is to visit Dublin towards the end of the month.
The commission was alerted to look into tax rulings following the issue being raised in the US Senate and the British House of Commons and from details in the media.
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