Apple’s Tax Dispute with Europe and the Need for Reform

Policy Brief
16-16
October 2016

In August 2016, the European Competition Commissioner ordered US technology giant Apple Inc. to pay Ireland €13 billion ($14.5 billion) after ruling that the tax breaks Ireland gave the company in 1991 and 2007 breached EU state aid rules. Both Apple and Ireland announced they would appeal. The US Treasury Department criticized the European Commission’s new approach as applied in the Apple case, as well as the retroactive component of the decision and its detrimental impact on the ability of member states to honor bilateral tax treaties. If the European Court of Justice upheld the Commission’s decisions in the Apple and similar cases, the Competition Commissioner would get broad powers to override member state domestic tax laws and rulings, and future state aid decisions could become the most important investment policy measures in Europe over the next few years. In a worst-case scenario for Europe, many multinational corporations could dial back their planned investments. Apple’s tax dispute has renewed congressional interest in US business tax reform, highlighting the fact that the US corporate tax code puts US-based multinational companies in a less competitive position than their international peers and has made the United States an unfavorable location, from a tax standpoint, in which to set up their headquarters.