Germany, France Targeted as EU Chases Tax-Loophole Data

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Margrethe Vestager, the bloc’s antitrust chief, is seeking to throw the spotlight onto the tax affairs of multinationals across the EU, potentially adding to probes targeting fiscal arrangements of Apple Inc. in Ireland, Starbucks Corp. in the Netherlands and Amazon.com Inc. and a Fiat SpA unit in Luxembourg.

Margrethe Vestager, the bloc’s antitrust chief, is seeking to throw the spotlight onto the tax affairs of multinationals across the EU, potentially adding to probes targeting fiscal arrangements of Apple Inc. in Ireland, Starbucks Corp. in the Netherlands and Amazon.com Inc. and a Fiat SpA unit in Luxembourg.

Photographer: Jock Fistick/Bloomberg

The European Union stepped up a probe into tax loopholes for multinational companies, demanding details of specific agreements in 15 nations including euro-area heavyweights Germany, France and Italy.

Regulators also issued an ultimatum to Poland and Estonia for failing to hand over information about tax deals. The EU ordered them to fall in line within one month or face possible legal action at the European Court of Justice.

Margrethe Vestager, the bloc’s antitrust chief, is seeking to throw the spotlight onto the tax affairs of multinationals across the EU, potentially adding to probes targeting fiscal arrangements of Apple Inc. in Ireland, Starbucks Corp. in the Netherlands and Amazon.com Inc. and a Fiat SpA unit in Luxembourg.

“We are putting together the puzzle of tax-ruling practices in the EU,” Vestager said Monday in an e-mailed statement. “Sometimes we had to ask member states twice –- or more –- to provide information.”

Vestager said last month that regulators will fail to complete the tax probes into Apple, Amazon, Starbucks and Fiat by the middle of this year. The former Danish economy minister inherited the cases when she took over the EU role at the start of November. All the companies have said that they acted within the law.

Germany’s government supports the EU’s tax probe, the country’s finance ministry said in an e-mailed response to questions. Italian and Polish officials declined to immediately comment. The French government didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Legal Grounds

Estonia said it won’t share information containing corporate and tax secrets and questioned the legal grounds for the commission’s request. Estonian law prohibits preferential treatment of companies through tax deals, ruling out violations of state-aid regulations, the country’s finance ministry said in an e-mail.

The EU in December sought lists of every company granted a so-called tax ruling between 2010 and 2013. With the exception of Estonia and Poland, all EU countries cooperated and provided the required information in full, the commission said.

The commission is now digging deeper by seeking further information on tax rulings from the three biggest euro-area nations as well as Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Lithuania, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden.

The commission is in charge of policing state subsidies that skew competition and can request countries to claw back illegal aid.

Tax Affairs

The EU regulator isn’t the only authority facing resistance to its attempts to shed light on corporate tax affairs.

Executives from 13 companies have rebuffed invitations to a European Parliament hearing examining low-tax deals for big businesses.

Only Total SA confirmed its attendance at a June 23 session. Excuses for not attending included short notice for the invitations, ongoing probes and travel commitments. Officials said last week they haven’t given up on finding mutually convenient dates.

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