European Commission Stories March 9, 2016

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 22: A general view of Apples' Regent St store on Earth Day at Regent Street on April 22, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images for Apple)

The European Union warned us this week not to expect a speedy conclusion to the long-running investigation into the legality of Apple’s tax arrangements in Europe. The delay follows a decision back in December to expand the scope of the investigation.

But while the wheels of EU tax investigations may grind exceedingly slowly, I’d be willing to wager quite large sums of money on the final outcome. It looks to me increasingly clear that Apple’s tax arrangements with the Irish government are going to be declared illegal, and that Apple is going to be faced with a significant bill for unpaid tax …

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European Commission Stories March 7, 2016

EU competition chief warns “don’t hold your breath” on $8B investigation into Apple’s tax affairs

European Union competition chief Margrethe Vestager has warned reporters not to expect a quick decision from the investigation into whether or not Apple’s tax arrangements in Europe are legal, reports Bloomberg.

“Don’t hold your breath,” she told reporters in Brussels on Monday about the timing of decisions targeting Apple and online shopping giant Amazon.com Inc, whose tax affairs in Luxembourg are also under intense scrutiny. “I’m just warning you.”

Apple uses Ireland as its European headquarters, funneling most revenue through the country, where it has a special arrangement with the Irish government to pay corporation tax of just 2.5%. The EU believes this arrangement may be illegal for two reasons …

European Commission Stories January 21, 2016

Tim Cook in Augsburg, Germany inspecting panels for Apple Campus 2

Tim Cook this week met with the European Commission’s antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager, Bloomberg reports and Kristin Huguet, a spokeswoman at Apple, confirms. The Cupertino based company is fighting back against contentions that they have formed a special agreement with Ireland in which they pay significantly lower taxes to the country’s government. The news also appears to coincide with Tim Cook’s announcement in launching an iOS development center in Italy.

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European Commission Stories January 15, 2016

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With a recent European Commission ruling making it look more likely than ever that Apple’s tax arrangements in Ireland will be declared illegal, Bloomberg has been doing the sums on how much the company may owe in back tax. The total? More than $8 billion.

Apple funnels all its European revenue through Ireland, where a special agreement with the Irish government means that it pays just 2.5% tax instead of the normal 12.5%. A long-running European Commission investigation into the legality of this arrangement was recently extended and expanded its scope.

Assuming the agreement is ruled to be illegal, it would be the Irish government – and not Apple – who broke the law, but Apple would still have to pay the difference between the tax it actually paid and the full amount that would have been due without the deal. The company warned shareholders last year that it may have to pay ‘material’ back taxes, but the figure calculated by Bloomberg is much larger than earlier estimates …

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European Commission Stories January 11, 2016

Belgian ruling increases likelihood that AAPL’s sweetheart tax deal in Ireland will be ruled illegal

The European Commission has ruled that tax breaks offered by Belgium to multinational companies are illegal, and that the companies concerned must pay the full rate of tax due in the country, reports VentureBeat. This follows similar decisions in Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

While none of these rulings directly impact Apple, they do make it look extremely likely that the Commission will reach the same decision in Ireland, where Apple pays just 2.5% corporation tax instead of the normal 12.5%.

The Irish government offered Apple the special deal in order to encourage the company to choose the country as its European headquarters. The European Commission has been running a lengthy investigation into the legality of this arrangement, and has recently extended and expanded its scope.

If Ireland is indeed found to have broken the law, Apple will have to pay the difference in tax for up to ten years. The total amount was estimated last year at $2.5 billion. Apple warned shareholders at the time that it may face ‘material’ back taxes should the decision go against it.

The EC isn’t the only entity unhappy with Apple’s tax arrangements in Ireland either. The Italian government accused Apple of failing to declare more than $1.3 billion of corporation tax in the country as a result of funneling profits through to Ireland. Apple, which has 16 retail stores in the country, recently agreed to pay the full €318M ($347M) claimed by the Italian tax office.

Photo: AP Photo/Rick Rycroft

European Commission Stories December 14, 2015

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The long-running investigation into the legality of Apple’s tax arrangements in Ireland has been expanded, with the European Commission now seeking additional information from the Irish government, reports the FT. This means that the investigation is likely to be extended well into next year. A ruling had originally been expected before the end of the year.

While Irish authorities had expected the case to be concluded soon, they have instead been sent bulky sets of supplementary questions, meaning it will be difficult to reach a final verdict until after the 2016 election, which is expected as early as February […]

The Irish finance ministry confirmed that the government was supplying the requested additional information to the commission. “We do not expect any decision until after the new year,” said a spokesman.

If the ruling goes against Apple, it could face a bill for billions of Euros in underpaid tax …

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European Commission Stories November 11, 2015

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Update: Apple has since stated that Cook intended to describe the Microsoft Surface Book as “diluted” rather than “deluded.”

The Irish government has announced that Apple will be employing an additional 1,000 staff in Ireland, the country where the company declares much of its revenue from sales throughout Europe, reports Reuters.

Ireland’s main foreign investment agency, the IDA, said Apple was to add 1,000 jobs to its office in Cork by mid-2017 from 5,000 at present. It said the company had also added 1,000 jobs in the past year.

There had been some concern about whether Apple would maintain a significant presence in the country if the European Commission investigation into Apple’s tax dealings in the country went against the company …  expand full story

European Commission Stories May 4, 2015

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Allegations that Apple is engaging in anti-competitive practices in the run-up to the launch of its rebranded Beats streaming music service are now being investigated by the Department of Justice, according to “multiple sources” cited by The Verge.

The claim is that Apple has been attempting to use its influence to persuade music labels to pull out of deals with free, ad-supported services like Spotify and YouTube in order to reduce competition and increase demand for its own paid service. The European Commission launched an investigation into these same allegations last month …

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European Commission Stories April 2, 2015

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Apple’s planned rebranding and relaunch of the Beats streaming music service has not had the easiest of rides. The launch, initially planned for earlier this year, was delayed by the departure of key execs and difficulties integrating Beats and Apple technologies. A planned $5/month price-point had to be abandoned in favor of an attempt at $7.99/month when music labels wouldn’t play ball, and that too now looks increasingly unlikely even though Google Play offered initial All Access Signups for a $7.99 locked in. And any plans to offer artist exclusives as an inducement now face competition from newly-relaunched Tidal.

Just when it seemed things couldn’t get any tougher, London’s Financial Times reports that the European Commission is considering launching an antitrust investigation into the service, even before it launches. The Commission has contacted several music labels to ask what deals have been done with Apple, says the FT.

The commission, which also has contacted Apple’s music-streaming rivals, is said to be concerned that the company will use its size, relationships and influence to persuade labels to abandon free, ad-supported services such as Spotify, which depend on licenses with music companies for their catalogues.

The newspaper implies that the investigation may have been triggered by a formal complaint by an existing streaming music service …  expand full story

European Commission Stories March 5, 2015

EU court says ebooks aren’t books, must be subject to higher tax rates

Europe’s top court has declared that ebooks are ‘services’ rather than books, and that European countries are not allowed to give them the same favorable tax treatment as paper books. The reasoning, such as it is, is that ebooks cannot be used without a physical device, and ebooks are a service provided to those devices.

Both France and Luxembourg have applied to ebooks the same reduced rate of VAT (sales tax) enjoyed by books made from crushed trees. The WSJ reports that the EU has ruled that this is illegal.

Since 2012, France has applied a 5.5% VAT rate and Luxembourg a 3% VAT rate on e-books, the same rate as for paper books. The European Court of Justice said both countries must apply their normal VAT rate, which for France is 20% and for Luxembourg is 17%.

Europe already closed one ebook-related tax loophole: Amazon used to use its Luxembourg base as a reason to charge just 3% on ebook sales throughout Europe, but a change in the law forced it to apply the VAT rate applicable to the customer’s own country.

There is some small hope that sanity may prevail in future. The European Commission has said that there may be legal mechanisms through which countries can in future define their own policies, with an “extensive overhaul” of VAT rules to be completed next year. However, don’t be surprised if ‘harmonization’ of tax rates for paper and digital books results in higher taxes on the former to pay for lower taxes on the latter …

Apple of course had its own legal troubles around ebooks, with its pricing model found to amount to anti-competitive practices.

Via Engadget

European Commission Stories September 30, 2014

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Two days after the Financial Times reported that the European Commission was about to come down hard on Apple’s alleged deal with the Irish government to reduce its tax liabilities, Apple has made a statement to Business Insider claiming that it has received “no selective treatment.”

Apple is proud of its long history in Ireland and the 4,000 people we employ in Cork. They serve our customers through manufacturing, tech support and other important functions. Our success in Europe and around the world is the result of hard work and innovation by our employees, not any special arrangements with the government. Apple has received no selective treatment from Irish officials over the years. We’re subject to the same tax laws as the countless other companies who do business in Ireland.

Since the iPhone launched in 2007, our tax payments in Ireland and around the world have increased tenfold. To continue that growth and the benefits it brings to the communities where we work and live, we believe comprehensive corporate tax reform is badly needed …

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European Commission Stories September 28, 2014

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It looks like this week’s Apple “xxx-gate” is a big one with the Financial Times reporting that the European Commision is about to come down hard on Apple for its long held tax avoidance strategies in Ireland.

Typically the EU has used its state aid powers to address broader competition issues. But in the past year Brussels has attempted to target the tax affairs of companies such as Apple, Starbucks and Amazon. It is a novel application of the law with far-reaching implications, not just for the companies, or EU countries, but for EU-US relations in general.

This week the European Commission will publish the first findings in the Apple case. The details – including evidence from bygone tax negotiations – are likely to be explosive.

The US is no happier with Apple’s use of specially created Irish tax loopholes which allow it to avoid paying taxes it would otherwise be due. Apple CEO Tim Cook and other execs faced Senate Subcommittee questioning in May in which focused on Apple’s tax avoidance schemes.

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Did Apple apply pressure to Irish authorities in 1991 and again in 2007 when negotiating tax deals and if so were these illegal competitive measures that gave Apple advantages over competitors? Luca Maestri, Apple’s finance chief, of course denies any wrongdoing… expand full story

European Commission Stories July 28, 2014

Iovine Cook Dr Dre Cue Beats

The European Commission has today approved Apple’s acquisition of Beats Electronics and Beats Music. The commission said that the buyout passes merger regulations. The commission concluded that Apple and Beats’ combined marketshare in both the streaming music and headphones markets is low, so an acquisition did not materially affect competition.

In headphones, the EU says that Apple/Beats exists in a global market with numerous other brands, including Bose, Sennheiser and Sony. For streaming music, companies like Spotify and Deezer offered a similar safety buffer. As the EU commission cares only for European operations, the fact that iTunes Radio and Beats Music do not currently operate in European countries also helped the deal go through smoothly.

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European Commission Stories July 18, 2014

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The European Commission has complained that Apple is taking too long to implement protections for freemium games in the App Store, reports BBC News. The Commission has decreed that both Apple and Google, the two biggest app store vendors, must make the “true cost of apps” clear before purchase. However, officials are upset that Apple has not yet committed to any such measures.

“Regrettably, no concrete and immediate solutions have been made by Apple to date to address the concerns linked in particular to payment authorisation,” the Commission said in a statement.

“Apple has proposed to address those concerns. However, no firm commitment and no timing have been provided for the implementation of such possible future changes.

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European Commission Stories June 11, 2014

Apple responds to EU investigation into tax practices: “Apple pays every euro of every tax that we owe”

Following a report yesterday that the European Commission was about to launch a formal investigation into Apple’s tax practices in Ireland, the EU has now officially announced the investigation at a press conference. Bloomberg reports that the investigation will include not just Apple, but also Starbucks and Fiat Finance & Trade SA and will look at “whether the tax deals in Ireland, the Netherlands and Luxembourg are illegal state aid.” 

“Special secret deals should be outlawed across the EU,” Chas Roy-Chowdhury, head of taxation at the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, said in an e-mailed statement. “All tax breaks and reliefs should be openly available for qualifying businesses.”

“We need to fight against aggressive tax planning,” Joaquin Almunia, the EU’s competition commissioner, said at a press conference in Brussels. He said it’s “still too soon to anticipate” possible recovery if the EU finds the tax rulings to be illegal.

Apple responded with a statement to Bloomberg following the news claiming that it “pays every euro of every tax that we owe” and that it “received no selective treatment from Irish officials.” Apple’s full statement is below:

“Apple pays every euro of every tax that we owe,” the company said in an e-mailed statement. “We have received no selective treatment from Irish officials. Apple is subject to the same tax laws as scores of other international companies doing business in Ireland.”

Apple last year faced a U.S. Senate hearing on its offshore tax practices in which it denied taking advantage of any tax loopholes in Ireland. The SEC also closed its own investigation without establishing any wrong-doing in October of last year.

European Commission Stories June 10, 2014

EU launching formal investigation into Apple’s tax practices in Ireland

According to a report from Ireland’s RTE.ie, the European Commission has decided to officially launch a formal investigation into Apple’s tax practices in the country (via The Loop). An announcement is expected by EU officials tomorrow:

The European Commission is to open a formal investigation into Apple’s tax arrangements with Ireland… An announcement is expected to be made by Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia tomorrow… EU state aid rules are designed to prevent unfair practices, although it is not clear that countries offering favourable tax terms to companies or industries would violate such rules.

Apple last year faced U.S. Senate hearing on its offshore tax practices in which it denied taking advantage of any tax gimmicks or loopholes in Ireland. The EU shortly after launched an investigation into tax agreements with multinational companies in Ireland and number of other EU countries, while government officials in Ireland denied claims of a special 2% tax deal with Apple.

Later, in October of last year, the SEC in the U.S. ultimately closed its own investigation without establishing any wrong-doing on Apple’s part.

European Commission Stories December 18, 2012

apple-v-samsungToday, we have updates on Apple and Samsung’s ongoing court woes. A report from Bloomberg noted U.S. District Judge Lucy H. Koh in the San Jose, California case rejected Apple’s most recent request for a United States sales ban on 26 Samsung devices. According to the report, Koh said the decision was based on the fact that the “case involves lost sales—not a lost ability to be a viable market participant.”

“Samsung may have cut into Apple’s customer base somewhat, but there is no suggestion that Samsung will wipe out Apple’s customer base, or force Apple out of the business of making smartphones,” Koh said. “The present case involves lost sales — not a lost ability to be a viable market participant.”

As noted by The Verge, a second post-trial order delivered by Koh yesterday denied Samsung’s request for a new trial on the claims of jury misconduct. Koh claimed that juror Velvin Hogan disclosed his previous involvement with Seagate during the jury selection process, giving Samsung’s lawyers more than enough time to discover the litigation. From the court filing:

Samsung has waived its claim for an evidentiary hearing and a new trial based on Mr. Hogan’s alleged dishonesty during voir dire.  Prior to the verdict, Samsung could have discovered Mr. Hogan’s litigation with Seagate, had Samsung acted with reasonable diligence based on information Samsung acquired through voir dire, namely that Mr. Hogan stated during voir dire that he had worked for Seagate.

Samsung vs. Apple cases abroad are also making news today: FossPatents reported today that Samsung has dropped all requests for sales bans against Apple in Europe related to standard-essential patents. However, as pointed out in the report, Samsung will still attempt to win monetary compensation in its cases against Apple, but will no longer request courts to enforce bans on Apple products. FossPatents speculated on Samsung’s decision: expand full story

European Commission Stories November 6, 2012

According to a new report from Reuters, EU authorities are about to accept a deal with Apple and four book publishers in order to end an antitrust investigation into whether Apple conspired with publishers to prevent Amazon from undercutting Apple’s ebook pricing. The companies originally proposed the settlement in late August, and it would see Amazon go back to its original ebook pricing for two years. By making the deal, Apple and the publishers will be able to put an end to the antirust investigation and avoid related fines:

Apple, Simon & Schuster, News Corp unit HarperCollins, Lagardere SCA’s Hachette Livre, and Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck, the owner of German company Macmillan, made the proposal to the European Commission in September…Pearson Plc’s Penguin group, which is also under investigation, did not take part in the offer.

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European Commission Stories January 31, 2012

European Union regulators today announced the launch of a formal investigation of Samsung over mobile patents to determine whether the South Korean conglomerate breached EU antitrust rules in its legal dealings with competitors. The investigation is focused on so-called FRAND patents, a common rule that stipulates a patent applying to the standard must be adopted on “fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory terms” (FRAND). According to the press release, EU regulators want to figure out whether Samsung “used certain of its standard essential patent rights to distort competition in European mobile device markets, in breach of EU antitrust rules.”

The Commission reminds that Samsung a decade ago promised to let rivals license its mobile patents under FRAND terms. The full-blown investigation comes in the light of the lawsuits Samsung filed against Apple at courts in Germany, France, the Netherlands and other countries around the world, asserting copyright infringement related to patents essential to wireless telecommunications standards.

The case is “a matter of priority,” the document reads. Patent blogger explained, “The European Commission can’t wait until Samsung finally wins a ruling based on such a patent and enforces it, potentially causing irreparable harm.” The full text of the European Commission Antitrust Commission announcement can be found below.

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European Commission Stories January 4, 2011

Here’s some interesting news from the periphery.  In Europe, where Microsoft was forced to institute a ‘browser ballot ‘upon the installation of Windows (giving Opera, Safari, Chrome, Firefox and IE equal billing), Firefox has just passed IE as the most popular browser on the continent.

That’s according to Statcounter who told Reuters “This appears to be happening because Google’s Chrome is stealing share from Internet Explorer while Firefox is mainly maintaining its existing share. We are probably seeing the impact of the agreement between European Commission competition authorities and Microsoft, to offer EU users a choice and menu of browsers from March last year.”

Given equal footing with other browsers, users just don’t pick IE (remember this ballot is only a year old and it will likely get much worse for Microsoft.

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