Between the competition law and a competition culture: the case of Apple/Ireland

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by Ana Filipa Afonseca, student of the Master´s degree in EU Law of UMinho

The importance of Apple’s case emerged when the journalist of the Irish Times asked the European Commission representative, Margrethe Vestager, in the press conference about the illegality of the aid provided by Ireland to Apple Sales International, if the Union wouldn’t be afraid of losing the investment of external companies with such sanctions. The answer given, without lyricism, made clear that the lesson wasn’t well-examined, after all, she simply answered “this is not a penalty, this is unpaid taxes”. The state aid prohibition read in the 107º TFEU conforms one of the most important competition laws, given that this mechanism contradicts the previous protectionist rules, inherent to the state individualism, in which the national independence was established through favouring State domestic economy to the detriment of other economies. Therefore, this response was surgical: urges the time for the Member States to finally consider the internal market as a single market, defined by the fair competition and this will be the main catch for future investment. Above all, the competition law demands an important shift of thought by the Member States – today we are not one.

The case Apple/Ireland raises several questions. Primarily, it takes into account the mould of the State aid, due to the fact that this is not a direct measure of tax exemption, fiscal guarantee, preferential  tax interest , favourable deals in the land acquisition, special rates, as in most cases, the Irish measure translates in a broad sense, in a advantage (expression used in the Case Italy versus European Commission 2nd of July of 1974, Process 173/73) that benefits the economic operator. The illegal aid converts into splitting of profit between Apple Sales International and Apple Operations Europe which the result implies that the Irish branch office would be subjected to the normal taxation of Irish companies, however, the head office where most of the profit was allocated, was not subjected to any kind of taxation and this was possible under the Irish tax law, which until 2013 allowed for so called ‘Stateless Companies’.

Continue reading “Between the competition law and a competition culture: the case of Apple/Ireland”

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EU finance rules – changes in the horizon

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by Joaquim Rocha, Professor at the Law School of University of Minho

The rules of the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) for the European Union may yet again undergo some changes. The SGP — whose first version started being implemented in 1997 and since day one has been criticised for vagueness, complexity and juridical fragility — has gone through several amendments seeking to avoid infractions and deviations. Most recent revisions were related to excessive deficit situations into which a number of Member States have been dragged (including Portugal). Following political blockages and negotiation impasses, those revisions were taken to an “extra-Union” solution (conventional/classic international law) via the so-called Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union.

At this time, a solution within the EU law framework is pursued. The idea aims to simplify the rules and make them easily manageable by policymakers, public authorities, politicians in general, namely those accountable in the finances. The major line of action revolves around the introduction of a public expenditure’s control index. Simply put, the goal of the financial mechanisms would be transferred from cutting deficit in general to imposing an expenditure limit to the States, which could not override the growth rates of the economy in the mid-term.

It should be a virtuous solution as the fiscal focus has been kept on income, loans and taxes for too long, mistakenly discrediting and setting aside the essential cornerstone of finances: the expenditure.

According to the President of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, “We did not discuss how to change the Pact, just how to choose the indicators to assess the compliance with the Pact. (…) It is directly in the hands of finance ministers. It gives us more guidance in the process of designing the budget. It says in advance what you have to do, and you have the control in your hands. There was general agreement that we need an indicator that takes out all the cyclical elements and one-offs but preferably it should be more stable and not change all the time, and we could put more emphasis on indicators that we can actually directly influence as finance ministers“, via Reuters.

On the matter, the Vice President of the European Commission officially addressed after the informal ECOFIN:

Our intention is to focus more on what is really in the hands of the Ministers of Finance, namely the evolution of primary expenditure and new revenue measures. This does not mean that we will put aside the deficit and the debt objectives. It is rather about making it clear what governments are expected to do to achieve these objectives. There was I would say broad support to pursue the work in this direction.(…)  At the same time, we need to be realistic in our expectations, as many underlined that there is no perfect method of calculating the out-put gap, it will always be an approximation“, via European Commission Press Release.

The changes had been anticipated:

EU to consider single “expenditure rule” to cut through budget morass, via Reuters.

Picture credits: Money Scales  by Images Money.