Category: EU State Aid

The definition of state aid is found in Article 107(1) TFEU. In order for state aid to be present all of the following four conditions need to be fulfilled:

  • Aid must be present; i.e. a financial advantage such as a tax benefit. Such aid must be granted by an EU Member State (or any lower level of government) or through state resources, in a manner attributable to that state.
  • Such aid should distort or threaten to distort competition and affect trade between EU Member States.
  • Such aid should favor certain undertakings or the production of certain goods; i.e. it needs to be ‘selective’.

In 2001, the EU Commission launced a number of investigations into “transfer pricing schemes” launched by Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands in relation to Apple, Starbucks, Fiat,  and Amazon.

European Commission vs. Belgium, September 2021, The European Court of Justice, Case No. C‑337/19 P

European Commission vs. Belgium, September 2021, The European Court of Justice, Case No. C‑337/19 P

Since 2005, Belgium has applied a system of exemptions for the excess profit of Belgian entities which form part of multinational corporate groups. Those entities were able to obtain a tax ruling from the Belgian tax authorities, if they could demonstrate the existence of a new situation, such as a reorganisation leading to the relocation of the central entrepreneur to Belgium, the creation of jobs, or investments. In that context, profits regarded as being ‘excess’, in that they exceeded the profit that would have been made by comparable stand-alone entities operating in similar circumstances, were exempted from corporate income tax. In 2016, the Commission found that that system of excess profit exemptions constituted a State aid scheme that was unlawful and incompatible with the internal market and ordered the recovery of the aid thus granted from 55 beneficiaries, including the company Magnetrol International. Belgium and ... Continue to full case
The European Commission vs. Nike and the Netherlands, July 2021, European Court of Justice Case No T-648/19

The European Commission vs. Nike and the Netherlands, July 2021, European Court of Justice Case No T-648/19

In 2016 the European Commission announced that it had opened an in-depth investigation to examine whether tax rulings (unilateral APA’s) granted by the Netherlands had given Nike an unfair advantage over its competitors, in breach of EU State aid rules. The formal investigation concerned the tax treatment in the Netherlands of two Nike group companies, Nike European Operations Netherlands BV and Converse Netherlands BV. These two operating companies develops, markets and records the sales of Nike and Converse products in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (the EMEA region). Nike European Operations Netherlands BV and Converse Netherlands BV obtained licenses to use intellectual property rights relating to Nike and Converse products in the EMEA region. The two companies obtained the licenses, in return for a tax-deductible royalty payment, from two Nike group entities, which are currently Dutch entities that are “transparent” for tax purposes (i.e., ... Continue to full case
European Commission vs Luxembourg and Engie, May 2021, EU General Court, Case No T-516/18 and T-525/18

European Commission vs Luxembourg and Engie, May 2021, EU General Court, Case No T-516/18 and T-525/18

Engie (former GDF Suez) is a French electric utility company. Engie Treasury Management S.à.r.l., a treasury company, and Engie LNG Supply, S.A, a liquefied natural gas trading company, are both part of the Engie group. In November 2017, Total has signed an agreement with Engie to acquire its LNG business, including Engie LNG Supply. In 2018 the European Commission has found that Luxembourg allowed two Engie group companies to avoid paying taxes on almost all their profits for about a decade. This is illegal under EU State aid rules because it gives Engie an undue advantage. Luxembourg must now recover about €120 million in unpaid tax. The Commission’s State aid investigation concluded that the Luxembourg tax rulings gave Engie a significant competitive advantage in Luxembourg. It does not call into question the general tax regime of Luxembourg. In particular, the Commission found that the tax ... Continue to full case
European Commission vs. Amazon and Luxembourg, May 2021, State Aid - European General Court, Case No T-816/17 and T-318/18

European Commission vs. Amazon and Luxembourg, May 2021, State Aid – European General Court, Case No T-816/17 and T-318/18

In 2017 the European Commission concluded that Luxembourg granted undue tax benefits to Amazon of around €250 million.  Following an in-depth investigation the Commission concluded that a tax ruling issued by Luxembourg in 2003, and prolonged in 2011, lowered the tax paid by Amazon in Luxembourg without any valid justification. The tax ruling enabled Amazon to shift the vast majority of its profits from an Amazon group company that is subject to tax in Luxembourg (Amazon EU) to a company which is not subject to tax (Amazon Europe Holding Technologies). In particular, the tax ruling endorsed the payment of a royalty from Amazon EU to Amazon Europe Holding Technologies, which significantly reduced Amazon EU’s taxable profits. This decision was brought before the European Court of Justice by Luxembourg and Amazon. Judgement of the EU Court  The European General Court found that Luxembourg’s tax treatment of ... Continue to full case
Advocate General’s Opinion in Belgian Excess Profit Exemption Scheme case before the EU Court of Justice

Advocate General’s Opinion in Belgian Excess Profit Exemption Scheme case before the EU Court of Justice

In the Advocate General Opinion delivered 3 December 2020, in the EU Commissions “Aid scheme” case against Belgium and Magnetrol International, it is proposed that the Court of Justice set aside the 2019 judgment of the General Court, on the ground that the Commission has, contrary to the findings of the General Court, sufficiently demonstrated in its decision that the Belgian practice of making downward adjustments to profits of undertakings forming part of multinational groups meets the conditions for the existence of an ‘aid scheme’. “In conclusion, the General Court incorrectly assumed that the conditions of Article 1(d) of Regulation 2015/1589 were not met in the present case. On the contrary, in the contested decision the Commission sufficiently demonstrated that the Belgian practice of making downward adjustments of the profits of undertakings forming part of a multinational group constitutes an aid scheme within the meaning ... Continue to full case
European Commission vs. Ireland and Apple, September 2020, Appeal of the Judgement of the General Court on the Apple tax State aid case in Ireland

European Commission vs. Ireland and Apple, September 2020, Appeal of the Judgement of the General Court on the Apple tax State aid case in Ireland

The European Commission has decided to appeal the decision of the EU General Court in the State Aid case of Apple and Ireland. According to the European Commission Ireland gave illegal tax benefits to Apple worth up to €13 billion, because it allowed Apple to pay substantially less tax than other businesses. In a decision issued july 2020 the General Court held in favor of Apple and Ireland. This decision will now be reviewed by the European Court of Justice. “Statement by Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager on the Commission’s decision to appeal the General Court’s judgment on the Apple tax State aid case in Ireland Brussels, 25 September 2020 “The Commission has decided to appeal before the European Court of Justice the General Court’s judgment of July 2020 on the Apple State aid case in Ireland, which annulled the Commission’s decision of August 2016 finding ... Continue to full case
European Commission vs. Ireland and Apple, July 2020, General Court of the European Union, Case No. T-778/16 and T-892/16

European Commission vs. Ireland and Apple, July 2020, General Court of the European Union, Case No. T-778/16 and T-892/16

In a decision of 30 August 2016 the European Commission concluded that Ireland’s tax benefits to Apple were illegal under EU State aid rules, because it allowed Apple to pay substantially less tax than other businesses. The decision of the Commission concerned two tax rulings issued by Ireland to Apple, which determined the taxable profit of two Irish Apple subsidiaries, Apple Sales International and Apple Operations Europe, between 1991 and 2015. As a result of the rulings, in 2011, for example, Apple’s Irish subsidiary recorded European profits of US$ 22 billion (c.a. €16 billion) but under the terms of the tax ruling only around €50 million were considered taxable in Ireland. Ireland appealed the Commission’s decision to the European Court of Justice. The Judgement of the European Court of Justice The General Court annuls the Commission’s decision that Ireland granted illegal State aid to Apple ... Continue to full case
European Commission vs. Luxembourg and Fiat Chrysler Finance Europe, September 2019, General Court of the European Union, Case No. T-755/15

European Commission vs. Luxembourg and Fiat Chrysler Finance Europe, September 2019, General Court of the European Union, Case No. T-755/15

On 3 September 2012, the Luxembourg tax authorities issued a tax ruling in favour of Fiat Chrysler Finance Europe (‘FFT’), an undertaking in the Fiat group that provided treasury and financing services to the group companies established in Europe. The tax ruling at issue endorsed a method for determining FFT’s remuneration for these services, which enabled FFT to determine its taxable profit on a yearly basis for corporate income tax in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. In 2015, the Commission concluded that the tax ruling constituted State aid under Article 107 TFEU and that it was operating aid that was incompatible with the internal market. It also noted that the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg had not notified it of the proposed tax ruling and had not complied with the standstill obligation. The Commission found that the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg was required to recover the ... Continue to full case
European Commission vs. The Netherlands and Starbucks, September 2019, General Court of the European Union, Case No. T-760/15

European Commission vs. The Netherlands and Starbucks, September 2019, General Court of the European Union, Case No. T-760/15

In 2008, the Netherlands tax authorities concluded an advance pricing arrangement (APA) with Starbucks Manufacturing EMEA BV (Starbucks BV), part of the Starbucks group, which, inter alia, roasts coffees. The objective of that arrangement was to determine Starbucks BV’s remuneration for its production and distribution activities within the group. Thereafter, Starbucks BV’s remuneration served to determine annually its taxable profit on the basis of Netherlands corporate income tax. In addition, the APA endorsed the amount of the royalty paid by Starbucks BV to Alki, another entity of the same group, for the use of Starbucks’ roasting IP. More specifically, the APA provided that the amount of the royalty to be paid to Alki corresponded to Starbucks BV’s residual profit. The amount was determined by deducting Starbucks BV’s remuneration, calculated in accordance with the APA, from Starbucks BV’s operating profit. In 2015, the Commission found that ... Continue to full case
European Commission decision to open state-aid investigation into Luxembourg deduction of deemed interest on interest free loans - The Huhtamaki

European Commission decision to open state-aid investigation into Luxembourg deduction of deemed interest on interest free loans – The Huhtamaki

The European Commission has published a non-confidential version of the decision to open a state aid investigation into tax rulings granted by the Luxembourg tax authorities to the Huhtamaki Group in relation to the treatment of interest-free loans granted by an Irish group company to a Luxembourg group company, Huhtalux S.a.r.l. The investigation will focus on three rulings obtained by a Luxembourg subsidiary of a group from the Luxembourg tax administration in 2009, 2012 and 2013. The Luxembourg subsidiary which carried out intra-group financing activities was granted interest-free loans from an Irish group subsidiary and used the funds to grant interest bearing loans to other group companies. In the rulings the tax authorities in Luxembourg confirmes that the financing subsidiary can deduct an amount of deemed interest on the interest-free loans corresponding to interest payments that an independent third party would have demanded for the loans ... Continue to full case
European Commission vs. UK, April 2019, European Commission, Case no C(2019) 2526 final

European Commission vs. UK, April 2019, European Commission, Case no C(2019) 2526 final

Back in 2017 the European Commission opened an in-depth probe into a UK scheme that exempts certain transactions by multinational groups from the application of UK rules targeting tax avoidance. The EU commission concluded its investigations in a decision issued 2 April 2019. According to the decision the UK “Group Financing Exemption” is in breach of EU State aid rules. Under the Scheme foreign multinationals would benefit from tax exemption of profits related to payments of interest on intragroup loans. “In conclusion, the Commission finds that the United Kingdom has unlawfully implemented the contested measure to the benefit of certain UK resident companies in breach of Article 108(3) of the Treaty. The Commission also finds that the Group Financing Exemption constitutes State aid that is incompatible with the internal market within the meaning of Article 107(1) of the Treaty, in as far as it applies ... Continue to full case
Commission opens in-depth investigation into tax treatment of Huhtamäki in Luxembourg

Commission opens in-depth investigation into tax treatment of Huhtamäki in Luxembourg

The European Commission has now opened an in-depth investigation to examine whether tax rulings granted by Luxembourg to Finnish food and drink packaging company Huhtamäki may have given the company an unfair advantage over its competitors, in breach of EU State Aid rules. Margrethe Vestager, Commissioner in charge of competition policy, said: “Member States should not allow companies to set up arrangements that unduly reduce their taxable profits and give them an unfair advantage over their competitors. The Commission will carefully investigate Huhtamäki’s tax treatment in Luxembourg to assess whether it is in line with EU State aid rules.” The Commission’s formal investigation concerns three tax rulings issued by Luxembourg to the Luxembourg-based company Huhtalux S.à.r.l. in 2009, 2012 and 2013. The 2009 tax ruling was disclosed as part of the “Luxleaks” investigation led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in 2014. Huhtalux is ... Continue to full case
European Commission vs Belgium and Ireland, February 2019, General Court Case No 62016TJ0131

European Commission vs Belgium and Ireland, February 2019, General Court Case No 62016TJ0131

In 2016, the Commission requested that Belgium reclaim around €700 million from multinational corporations in what the Commission found to be illegal state aid provided under the Belgian “excess profit” tax scheme. The tax scheme allowed selected multinational corporations to exempt “excess profits” from the tax base when calculating corporate tax in Belgium. The European Court of Justice concludes that the Commission erroneously considered that the Belgian excess profit system constituted an aid scheme and orders that decision must be annulled in its entirety, in as much as it is based on the erroneous conclusion concerning the existence of such a scheme. For state aid to constitute an ‘aid scheme’, it must be awarded without requiring “further implementing measures.” According to court, “the Belgian tax authorities had a margin of discretion over all of the essential elements of the exemption system in question.” Belgium could ... Continue to full case
European Commission vs. Belgium and Magnetrol International, February 2019, General Court of the European Union, Case No. T 131/16 and T 263/16

European Commission vs. Belgium and Magnetrol International, February 2019, General Court of the European Union, Case No. T 131/16 and T 263/16

In January 2016 the European Commission concluded that Belgium’s excess profits tax exemption scheme was incompatible with the internal market and unlawful and ordering recovery of the aid granted . Belgium’s excess profits tax exemption In the first step, the arm’s length prices charged in transactions between the Belgian entity of a group and the companies with which it is associated were fixed based on a transfer pricing report provided by the taxpayer. Those transfer prices were determined by applying the transactional net margin method (TNMM). A residual or arm’s length profit was thus established, which corresponded to the profit actually recorded by the Belgian entity. In the second step the Belgian entity’s adjusted arm’s length profit was established by determining the profit that a comparable standalone company would have made in comparable circumstances. The difference between the profit arrived at following the first and second ... Continue to full case
The European Commission opens in-depth investigation into tax treatment of Nike and Converse in the Netherlands

The European Commission opens in-depth investigation into tax treatment of Nike and Converse in the Netherlands

The European Commission has opened an in-depth investigation to examine whether tax rulings granted by the Netherlands to Nike may have given the company an unfair advantage over its competitors, in breach of EU State aid rules. Margrethe Vestager, Commissioner in charge of competition policy, said: “Member States should not allow companies to set up complex structures that unduly reduce their taxable profits and give them an unfair advantage over competitors. The Commission will investigate carefully the tax treatment of Nike in the Netherlands, to assess whether it is in line with EU State aid rules. At the same time, I welcome the actions taken by the Netherlands to reform their corporate taxation rules and to help ensure that companies will operate on a level playing field in the EU.” Nike is a US based company involved worldwide in the design, marketing and manufacturing of ... Continue to full case
European Commission vs McDonald, December 2018, European Commission Case no. SA.38945

European Commission vs McDonald, December 2018, European Commission Case no. SA.38945

The European Commission found that Luxembourg did not grant illegal State aid to McDonald’s as a consequence of the exemption of income attributed to a US branch. ...it is not established that the Luxembourg tax authorities misapplied the Luxembourg – US double taxation treaty. Therefore, on the basis of the doubts raised in the Opening Decision and taking into account its definition of the reference system, the Commission cannot establish that the contested rulings granted a selective advantage to McD Europe by misapplying the Luxembourg – US double taxation treaty ... Continue to full case
European Commission concludes on investigation into Luxembourg's tax treatment of McDonald's under EU state aid regulations, September 2018

European Commission concludes on investigation into Luxembourg’s tax treatment of McDonald’s under EU state aid regulations, September 2018

Following an investigation into Luxembourg’s tax treatment of McDonald’s under EU state aid regulations since 2015, the EU Commission concluded that the tax rulings granted by Luxembourg to McDonald’s in 2009 did not provide illegal state aid. According to the Commission, the law allowing McDonald’s to escape taxation on franchise income in Luxembourg – and the US – did not amount to an illegal selective advantage under EU law. The double non-taxation of McDonald’s franchise income was due to a mismatch between the laws of the United States and Luxembourg. See the 2015 announcement of formal opening of the investigations into McDonald’s tax agreements with Luxembourg from the EU Commission EU vs McDonal IP-18-5831_EN ... Continue to full case
European Commission's investigations into member state transfer pricing and tax ruling practices

European Commission’s investigations into member state transfer pricing and tax ruling practices

Since June 2013, the European Commission has been investigating tax ruling practices of EU Member States. A Task Force was set up in summer 2013 to follow up on allegations of favourable tax treatment of certain companies, in particular in the form of unilateral tax rulings. The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (“TFEU”) provides that “any aid granted by a Member State or through State resources in any form whatsoever which distorts or threatens to distort competition by favouring certain undertakings or the production of certain goods shall, in so far as it affects trade between Member States, be incompatible with the internal market.”. The State aid rules ensures that the functioning of the internal market is not distorted by anticompetitive behavior favouring some to the detriment of others. In June 2014 the Commission initiated a series of State aid investigations on ... Continue to full case
Engie graph

European Commission vs Luxembourg and Engie, June 2018, EU State Aid Decision by the EU Commission

Engie (former GDF Suez) is a French electric utility company. Engie Treasury Management S.à.r.l., a treasury company, and Engie LNG Supply, S.A, a liquefied natural gas trading company, are both part of the Engie group. In November 2017, Total has signed an agreement with Engie to acquire its LNG business, including Engie LNG Supply. The European Commission has found that Luxembourg allowed two Engie group companies to avoid paying taxes on almost all their profits for about a decade. This is illegal under EU State aid rules because it gives Engie an undue advantage. Luxembourg must now recover about €120 million in unpaid tax. Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said “Luxembourg gave illegal tax benefits to Engie. Its tax rulings have endorsed two complex financing structures put in place by Engie that treat the same transaction in an inconsistent way, both as debt ... Continue to full case
Apple - Taxes and Transfer Pricing

Apple – Taxes and Transfer Pricing

Apple’s tax affairs have been in the spotlight of tax authorities for decades – and still are! Settlements have been entered with numerous European Countries, among others – Italy, the UK and France. Apple has also been investigated by the EU and a State Aid ruling was issued in August 2016. According to the ruling “Ireland granted illegal tax benefits to Apple” and the European Commission ordered Apple to pay €13 billion, plus interest, in unpaid Irish taxes from 2004–14 to the Irish state. U.S. Senate scrutiny of Apple Inc.’s tax strategies back in 2009 turned the spotlight on a stateless entity with $30 billion in profit since 2009 that’s incorporated in Ireland, controlled by a board in California, and didn’t pay taxes in either place ... Continue to full case