Google, Amazon, and Starbucks as our most influential
players in tax in 2013, it is not surprising that 2014 was
dominated by the lingering effects of those companies' tax
affairs being placed under the international spotlight. It is
fitting then, that this year's list recognises one of their
most vocal challengers.
Almunia is a new entry this year
Joaquín Almunia has been an unequivocal force in
Europe's fight against tax evasion. As the EU's competition
commissioner, Spanish politician Almunia is best known for his
efforts to push through anti-trust litigation against tech firm
Google. He challenged the tech company on accusations that it
favoured its' own results over competitors in searches.
Under Almunia, the European Commission (EC)
challenged Apple's tax deals with Ireland and launched an
official investigation. In June of this year, regulators also
launched official investigations into the
Netherlands' deals with Starbucks and Luxembourg's
agreements with Amazon and Fiat Finance and Trade.
The EC does not allow state aid in the form of tax breaks if
such tax incentives distort competition among member states.
During his tenure as competition commissioner, he challenged
corporate tax loopholes that violate fair competition. US-based
companies that exploited the tax policies of European countries
came under closer scrutiny.
State aid control has been used in the past to investigate
selective treatment given to a particular company based on
tax legislation or decisions. In the case of the opening of
several investigations regarding multinationals, Director
General of Competition analysed the way some member states made
use of 'tax rulings' to allegedly give a selective advantage
therefore distorting competition," Almunia told
International Tax Review.
"The investigations don't anticipate the final decision, but
are based on a 'reasonable doubt' about the breach of the state
aid framework," Almunia said.
During his last several months in office, Almunia did not
let up in the push against unfair corporate structures.
"National authorities must not allow selected companies to
understate their taxable profits by using favourable
calculation methods. It is only fair that subsidiaries of
multinational companies pay their share of taxes and do not
receive preferential treatment which could amount to hidden
subsidies. This investigation concerning tax arrangements for
Amazon in Luxembourg adds to our other in-depth
investigations launched in June. I welcome that cooperation
with Luxembourg has improved significantly," Almunia
Almunia was reluctant to discuss the Luxembourg leaks and
how the Commission should handle them, though he expressed
confidence his successor (and fellow Global Tax 50 2014
Margrethe Vestager, will handle such problems with an equal
amount of vigour.
"I am convinced they will continue the work that was being
done under the previous Commission as we did with the work of