For years, Apple has perfected the art of tax minimisation, hoovering up possibilities in creating an empire built on profit and return. It has cultivated a power that adapts the message of the bribing agent with that of the bully, tempting government hosts with promises of plenty, and withdrawing pledges on being pushed into moves it would rather not make for the sake of customers and shareholders. Permit tax breaks, and low tax bills, and your State prospers.
The European Commission, which occasionally comes across as a pushy regulatory bugbear, decided to make Apple accountable as a decent tax paying corporate citizen. Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager did to Apple what she had done to the Netherlands and Luxembourg in 2014 when she ordered the recovery of back tax revenue from Starbucks (20-30 million euros) and Fiat Chrysler (20-30 million euros) respectively.
Apple was ordered to pay tax arrears totalling $14.5 billion into Irish treasury coffers, a decision that sent a hyper chill through the European corporate sector. Capital’s power remains moveability, and corporate capital, when spooked, finds other sources. That is their magic wand, but on this score, the EU was refusing any bewitching on Apple’s part.
Apple’s response went by the book. The first was a promise that it would seek to overturn the ruling, suggesting it was not only flawed but a case of “total political crap,” to use the words of CEO Tim Cook.