Did Apple Pay Too Little Tax? (B): Appealing the EU Ruling on Illegal State Aid

Published 23 Jan 2019
Reference 6259
Region Europe

On 30 August 2016, Margrethe Vestager, the European Commissioner for Competition, ordered Ireland to recover €13 billion in illegal state aid that the state had granted Apple over a decade from 2003. In allowing Apple to pay close to zero in taxes, she ruled, Ireland had given the foreign company a selective advantage over other businesses paying the regular corporate tax rate of 12.5%. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, and Enda Kenny, the Irish Prime Minister, appealed the ruling, a process that is still ongoing. The case explores this event from five analytical pillars: 1) the role of Ireland’s low corporate tax rate in attracting FDI; 2) Apple’s decision to allocate its earnings to a paper company in Ireland with no physical presence in the country; 3) the repatriation of foreign earnings to the United States; 4) the transfer payments that Apple makes to the US to pay for R&D; 5) the Commissioner’s decision to impose a retroactive tax penalty on a foreign company that acted in accordance with the tax arrangements granted by its host country.

Teaching objectives

The case is designed to encourage students to think about the role of tax policy from the perspective of the company. With the rise of global companies such as Apple whose products are sold all over the world, the question of where they should be taxed becomes a particularly controversial issue. Students will be asked to reflect on tax policy around the following five points: 1) as a national competitive advantage in attracting FDI; 2) on shrewd corporate accounting that renders taxable income to nearly zero sums; 3) on powerful tax disincentives for the repatriation of earnings approaching two trillion dollars to the United States, 4) the political rational behind the current corporate tax principle that states taxes for innovative companies like Apple should be paid in the source country where R&D is carried out; 5) and that supranational entities such as the European Commission should take preventive measures and not corrective punitive measures in dealing with foreign countries who have created thousands of jobs in a particularly vulnerable host country such as Ireland.

  • Margrethe Vestager
  • public finance
  • corporate tax
  • repatriation of earnings
  • state aid
  • tax haven
  • Apple
  • European Commission for Competition
  • transfer payments
  • Enda Kenny
  • tax minimization
  • United States
  • international taxation
  • Q21819