THERE was a whiff of irony in the air at yesterday’s meeting of eurozone finance ministers in Bratislava where Ireland’s normally popular minister Michael Noonan (in Europe, at any rate) found himself somewhat isolated.
If he thought it would be easy to begin the task of justifying the Government’s decision to appeal the EU Commission’s ruling on the €13 billion Apple affair at a meeting with tax evasion on the agenda, he experienced what could be described as a rude awakening.
No sooner had he met his peers than the EU’s economics commissioner Pierre Moscovici described the move to appeal the ruling as a “strange” decision. Posing the question that many people in this country have been asking since EU competition commissioner launched her multi-billion euro rocket with Ireland and Apple both in the line of fire.
As Mr Moscovici, the French commissioner, put it: “It is a strange decision, in a way, to say ‘I don’t want your €13 billion’ when you could have some social programmes or economic programmes in a country that has been damaged by a crisis, but that’s their own will.”
Saying they will defend the ruling, he added: “We know that we are right. It’s not arbitrary.”
Significantly, the commissioner has also expressed full support for the ruling of Margrethe Vestager, the competition commissioner who has been strongly attacked by the Irish government which claimed her decision was politicised and represented an assault on a small nation.
Throwing down a gauntlet, he said: “We are a political commission with a political will, and this political will is clearly to fight tax evasion, tax fraud and aggressive tax planning.”
With Ireland and the commission clearly at loggerheads, yesterday’s relaunch of the French–led campaign for a common corporate tax base in Europe is particularly worrying.
It amounts to a direct assault on Ireland’s 12.5 % corporate rate, a sovereign policy of the Irish government which it must defend at all costs because it has drawn dozens of multinationals to Ireland and created tens of thousands of jobs here.
Ominously, the commission also intends drawing up a European black-list of tax havens.
Rebutting the Moscovici approach, Mr Noonan declared he expected other countries to support Ireland’s appeal in the European courts, reminding them that Ireland had been legally represented at similar appeals involving cases of state aid against Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands.
With hostilities declared on all sides, the scene is set for an uphill battle if Mr Noonan is to gain the sympathy and support of fellow finance ministers.
Effectively, the challenge will be to convince them that Ireland has no other choice but to appeal the controversial ruling.
In reality, that’s the kernel of the dilemma facing Ireland as it joins forces with Apple to contest the findings of Danish commissioner Vestager.
Contrary to attacking small nations, she has gained a formidable reputation for initiating investigations into the tax affairs of Fiat, Starbucks, and Amazon, as well as Apple.
Currently reopening an antitrust case against Google, Ms Vestager is no push-over.
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