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Global Tax 50 2014: Joaquín Almunia

16 December 2014

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Former competition commissioner, EU

Joaquín Almunia
Joaquín Almunia is a new entry this year
After recognising 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.

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 the 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 stated.

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 entrant) 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 our predecessors."

The Global Tax 50 2014
View the full list and introduction
Gold tier (ranked in order of influence)
1.  Jean-Claude Juncker  2.  Pascal Saint-Amans  3.  Donato Raponi  4.  ICIJ  5.  Jacob Lew  6.  George Osborne  7.  Jun Wang  8.  Inverting pharmaceuticals  9.  Rished Bade  10.  Will Morris

Silver tier (in alphabetic order)
Joaquín Almunia Apple Justice Patrick Boyle CTPA Joe Hockey IMF Arun Jaitley Marius Kohl Tizhong Liao Kosie Louw Pierre Moscovici Michael Noonan Wolfgang Schäuble Algirdas Šemeta Robert Stack

Bronze tier (in alphabetic order)
Shinzo Abe Alberto Arenas Piet Battiau Monica Bhatia Bitcoin Bono Warren Buffett ECJ Translators Eurodad Hungarian protestors Indian Special Investigation Team (SIT) Chris Jordan Armando Lara Yaffar McKesson Patrick Odier OECD printing facilities Pier Carlo Padoan Mariano Rajoy Najib Razak Alex Salmond Skandia Tax Justice Network Edward Troup Margrethe Vestager Heinz Zourek

International Correspondents