Apple Tax Grab by EU Invades IRS Airspace
europac.com / By: John Browne / September 15, 2016
On August 30th, the European Union (EU) Commission ordered the Irish government to reclaim some $14.6 billion of so-called back taxes plus interest from Apple Inc. The order challenged sovereign tax authority within the EU and well-established international tax rules. The aggressive stance of the Commission set off a furor of high level political argument among taxing authorities and multinational companies accustomed to complex but legal international tax planning. Apple’s case was big enough to place it at center stage in a simmering problem for governments in striking a balance between attracting businesses, creating jobs, generating taxes and deciding precisely what type of earnings can be taxed.
In a testament to how strange the taxing regimes have become, the Irish government has protested loudly and is reluctant to take the nearly 15 billion the EU says it is entitled. When small countries turn down such sums, it should be clear that the stakes are much higher.
With uncontrolled socialism and Keynesian monetary policies killing economic growth around the world, governments have ever greater need to wring revenue from the relatively stagnant pool of corporations and wealthy individuals. While the crackdown on personal tax havens, in Switzerland and the Channel Islands for instance, has been largely successful, corporations have become extremely adept using legal loopholes and creative international accounting to move revenues from high tax jurisdictions to countries where rates are lower. As of October, Reuters reported that U.S. based companies have some $2.1 trillion parked abroad in order to avoid high domestic taxes. Apparently Apple, the world’s largest company by market capitalization, accounts for over $180 billion of this total.
The U.S. corporate tax rate of 35 percent is widely considered to be uncompetitive and even excessive when compared with Ireland’s 12.5 percent rate (and even the 20 percent in the UK). It is an old adage that capital flows to where it is treated best. Ireland rolled out the red carpet for Apple, a decision that greatly benefited both.
Apple established a company in County Cork, Ireland in October 1980, sometime before Apple blossomed financially. Since then, Apple has become one of the largest taxpayers in the world and, according to its CEO, Tim Cook, the largest taxpayer in Ireland where it employs almost 6,000 people, mostly in high paying jobs, adding great benefit to the Irish economy both directly and by encouraging copycat corporations. (A Message to the Apple Community in Europe, 8/30/16)