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One of Europe’s highest courts may have cancelled the $15 billion back-tax bill she forced on Apple, but Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager is not giving up.
There’s too much at stake, not just in this specific case, but also in the European Commission’s wider quest to stop multinationals from enjoying specially advantageous tax deals—such as the one it claims was struck between Apple and Ireland, the base for Apple’s international operations outside of the Americas.
So, on Friday, Vestager announced her antitrust department’s appeal against the July ruling by the EU’s General Court, which said the Commission had failed to sufficiently demonstrate Ireland had given Apple special treatment—an action that would have meant Ireland had effectively granted Apple illegal state aid.
“The General Court judgment raises important legal issues that are of relevance to the Commission in its application of state aid rules to tax planning cases,” Vestager said in a statement. “The Commission also respectfully considers that in its judgment the General Court has made a number of errors of law. For this reason, the Commission is bringing this matter before the European Court of Justice.”
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) is the EU’s highest judicial authority, and has the last word on the interpretation of EU law.
The General Court, which together with the ECJ forms the Court of Justice of the EU—yes, the naming is confusing—is largely there to hear actions taken against EU institutions such as the Commission; in this case, it was Apple’s appeal against the Commission’s Irish tax decision.
Appeals against General Court rulings can only be taken up to the ECJ on points of law, rather than in an argument over the facts of the case.
The Commission’s problem here is that the General Court’s July ruling was mostly about the facts of the Apple-Ireland case.
Rather than saying the Commission made a wrong call in interpreting the law, it said the Commission had messed up because it couldn’t back up its claim that that the revenues of Apple’s Irish subsidiaries—which handle the manufacture and distribution of Apple products around the world—were largely down to the activities of those subsidiaries themselves, rather than being derived from U.S. i