In a development that is certain to give the Irish government additional concern if not a rash of political hives, Senator Elizabeth Warren has weighed in on the Apple tax standoff now pitting Dublin and the tech giant against the European Commission.
Warren, one of the more tenacious members of the Senate, penned an op-ed in the New York Times today in which she urged congress to pass legislation that would require U.S. companies to pay their “fair share” of taxes.
The op-ed appeared just hours after Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan laid out the government’s position on the EU ruling in a statement to the Dáil.
Warren, a forceful and increasingly influential Democrat, wrote that Apple had been given a “big surprise” last week when the European Commission ordered Ireland to collect more than $14 billion in back taxes from the company.
“The global giant had been attributing billions of dollars in profits to a phantom head office, allowing it to pay a tax rate of 1 percent or lower,” she stated in the op-ed.
The Massachusetts legislator noted that both Apple and Ireland were appealing the decision, “but the commission’s announcement was the latest sign that multinational corporations are running out of places to hide from paying taxes.’
She opined that door was now open for Congress “to fix our own corporate tax code, which has allowed the biggest multinationals to shirk their obligations for decades.”
Warren added in part: “The Apple ruling is big, but it is only the latest international effort to end the deals that American multinationals have used to pay near-zero tax rates.
“Multinational corporations are especially worried about losing access to Cayman Island-style tax rates in European countries where they can also get rule of law, political stability and an educated professional class of attorneys and consultants.
“The Treasury Department has pushed back against the European Commission over the Apple case, concerned about the impact on the Internal Revenue Service’s authority.
“But Treasury has also finalized new country-by-country reporting requirements that could help expose the jaw-dropping variety of tax-dodging schemes multinational companies employ.”
In the case of Apple and Ireland, political leaders can be added to the line about attorneys and consultants.
The government, at least that part of it made up of Fine Gael ministers, has stated its determination to reject, by way of an appeal, the EU Commission’s ruling that the Irish exchequer is owed in the region of $14.5 billion in back taxes from Apple in addition to accrued interest.
That determination was underlined yesterday in a Dáil Debate on what a Department of Foreign Affairs release described as the “Apple State Aid case.”
Defending the government’s position, Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan said he considered it “essential” that the Irish government appealed to the courts regarding the Commission’s analysis.
Said Flanagan: “As Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, I am particularly conscious of the need to protect our international reputation.
“Appealing to a court to determine the legal validity of Commissioner (Margrethe) Vestager’s conclusions is a necessary step to defend the integrity of our tax system and indeed tax systems across the European Union.
“With my trade hat on and speaking as chair of the Export Trade Council, I can say that it is also crucial to provide tax certainty to business.
“I am a passionate supporter of the European Union project and I believe part of its great strength is that it is clearly governed by the rule of law. In this instance, I believe that the Commission is encroaching into the area of taxation which is a sovereign competence and I believe that the European Courts will support that view.”
Flanagan acknowledged that the international community needed to work together to tackle the problems with the international tax system.
“Therefore this is a time when the EU should be seeking to work more closely with the United States, rather than clashing with them,” he said in an apparent reference to the alarm expressed by the U.S. Treasury Department over the EU commission ruling.
“It would be totally wrong to see the government’s decision to appeal the Commission’s findings as a turning away from the European Union,” said Flanagan.
“On the contrary, we are turning to the EU’s courts to support our view on the correct demarcation between taxation and state aid under the law.
“While we disagree with the Commission’s decision it is important to underline that Ireland is a committed member of the EU.
“Our appeal is in defense of the European Union acting in a fair and predictable manner. This in not only in Ireland’s interest, but in the interest of the European Union and all of its member states.
“In doing so, we are taking urgently required remedial action in defense of and in support of our reputation, our economy and of wider business confidence.”
That defense, however, might now have to be mounted on two fronts - against the EU Commission and U.S. Congress.
While Senator Warren’s views on many issues are far removed from those of senators on the Republican side of the aisle, the issue of U.S. corporations operating overseas and not paying fully required U.S. taxes has been, in recent years, one that has attracted significant bipartisan consensus.