No. 5: Margrethe Vestager
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No. 5: Margrethe Vestager

EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who joins the ranks of the Global Tax 50 for the fifth year in a row and took top spot in last year’s ranking, has had a quieter 12 months in 2017 compared to previous years. But that’s not to say multinationals aren’t still trembling with fear at the thought of being faced with state aid allegations from the determined commissioner.

Margrethe Vestager

Margrethe Vestager was also in the Global Tax 50 2016, 2015, and 2014

Amazon is the latest company to be slapped with a bill from Vestager for illegal state aid. The decision said the online retailer had received approximately €250 million of illegal tax benefits as a result of a tax ruling granted by Luxembourg. The ruling had lowered Amazon's tax bill without any valid justification, Vestager said, and allowed the company to avoid paying taxes on three quarters of its profits.

€250 million isn't a whole lot of money compared to the amounts in other cases Vestager has taken on – famously, Apple was fined €13 billion in August 2016 for allegedly receiving illegal tax benefits from Ireland. When the money still wasn't recovered by October this year, Vestager's patience wore thin and she took Ireland to court for moving too slowly.

"More than one year after the commission adopted this decision, Ireland has still not recovered the money," Vestager said. "We of course understand that recovery in certain cases may be more complex than in others, and we are always ready to assist. But member states need to make sufficient progress to restore competition. That is why we have today decided to refer Ireland to the EU Court for failing to implement our decision."

Ireland replied by saying it had never accepted the Commission's state aid decision, and said it was "extremely disappointing" that the commission had decided to take action.

The commissioner's investigations into Apple, Starbucks and McDonald's have given her a reputation of being on the warpath with Silicon Valley, and many politicians and CEOs across the Atlantic are weary of her singling out American companies. Responding to these allegations the commissioner simply stated that "it is irritating when American companies pay less in taxes than European ones".

Vestager recently confirmed that the fight will go on. On the question of future tax investigations, Vestager shook her head and said: "I don't think we're done. We haven't changed the full corporate culture yet."

The Dane has also been involved in a long-running state aid dispute over corporate tax exemptions for ports, which began in 2013, and in August she told France and Belgium to get rid of exemptions because they "distort the level playing field and fair competition". While the countries must abolish the exemptions by January 1 2018, they will not have to recover any of the aid, the commissioner said.

Vestager has made it her mission to address tax avoidance by multinationals through competition and state aid rules – something that makes her stand out from predecessors. With her term as competition commissioner running until 2019, multinationals will be holding their breath for at least two more years.

The Global Tax 50 2017

View the full list and introduction

The top 10 • Ranked in order of influence

1. US Tax Reform Big 6

2. Dawn of the robots

3. The breakdown of global consensus

4. The fifth estate

5. Margrethe Vestager

6. Arun Jaitley

7. Sri Mulyani Indrawati

8. Pascal Saint-Amans and Achim Pross

9. Richard Murphy

10. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi

The remaining 40 • In alphabetic order

Tomas Balco

Piet Battiau

Monica Bhatia


Rasmus Corlin Christensen

Seamus Coffey

Jeremy Corbyn

Rufino de la Rosa

Fabio De Masi

The Estonian presidency of the Council of the European Union

Maria Teresa Fabregas Fernandez

The fat tax

Maya Forstater

Babatunde Fowler

The GE/PwC outsourcing deal

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)

International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ)

Meg Hillier

Chris Jordan

Wang Jun

James Karanja

Bruno Le Maire

John Pombe Joseph Magufuli

Cecilia Malmström

The Maltese presidency of the EU Council

Paige Marvel

Theresa May

Angela Merkel

Narendra Modi

Pierre Moscovici

The European Parliament Committee of Inquiry into Money Laundering, Tax Avoidance and Tax Evasion (PANA)

The Paris Agreement

Grace Perez-Navarro

Alexandra Readhead

Heather Self


Tax Justice Network

Donald Trump

United Nations Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters

WU Global Tax Policy Center

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