Danish EU Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager speaks at a news conference on a case of illegal tax benefits for US company Apple at the European Commission, in Brussels, Belgium, 30 August 2016.

The European Commission's decision that Apple must repay up to 13 billion euros (14.5 billion dollars) in illegal tax benefits granted by Ireland sets a new benchmark for its inquiries into corporate tax breaks provided by member states, dwarfing any previous repayment demands.

The controversial decision could trigger years of legal wrangling over tax calculation methods and the reach of the European Union's executive, amid global efforts to crack down on corporate tax evasion.

Tax issues are a member state competence within the EU, but the commission believes it can weigh in when tax benefits granted to companies amount to state aid, an area it regulates.

Its aim is to ensure that multinationals do not enjoy unfair competitive benefits.

Other inquiries are as follows:


In July last year, the commission ordered that the energy giant Electricite de France repay an estimated 1.37 billion euros for illegal tax breaks granted by France in 1997. Until the Apple ruling, this was the highest amount a company was ordered to repay, with the final sum including 488 million euros in accrued interest. The decision followed years of legal wrangling.


Last October, US coffee retailer Starbucks and the financing arm of the Italian carmaker Fiat were told that they must repay an overall sum of around 20 million to 30 million euros to the Netherlands and Luxembourg respectively. This was the commission's first decision on so-called tax rulings, which countries issue to provide firms with clarity on how their taxes will be calculated.


In 2014, the EU launched a formal inquiry into a beneficial tax scheme that Luxembourg set up for Amazon's subsidiary there, amid concerns that a cap on taxable profits could mean that a large share of the online retailer's profits are not taxed in Luxembourg, despite being recorded there. The investigation is ongoing.


In December, the commission opened an investigation into a tax ruling that Luxembourg had granted to the McDonald's fast food chain, making it the fourth US company to have its tax bill scrutinized by the European Union's competition watchdog. The case is ongoing.


In January, Belgium was ordered to recoup around 700 million euros in unpaid taxes from at least 35 multinational firms that were able to reduce their taxable profits under a scheme branded "Only in Belgium" that was not available to local companies.


The commission has also asked each of the EU's 28 member states to provide lists of all companies that received special tax treatment between 2010 and 2013. The inquiry could give rise to more formal investigations.

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