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

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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.

Based on this analysis, the Commission concludes that in this specific case, 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.

McDonald’s Corporation is a Delaware public limited company with its principal office located in Oak Brook, Illinois, USA. It operates and franchises McDonald’s restaurants, which serve food and beverages. Of the 37,241 restaurants in over 100 countries approximately 34,108 are franchised and 3,133 are operated by the company. McDonald’s Corporation is therefore primarily a franchisor, with over 80% of McDonald’s restaurants owned and operated by independent franchisees. In 2017, McDonald’s Corporation had around 400 subsidiaries and 235,000 employees and recorded total revenues of USD 22.8 billion, of which USD 12.7 billion was from company-operated sales and USD 10.1 billion from franchised revenues.

A Luxembourg group company made a buy-in payment to enter a cost sharing arrangement with a US related company, and thereby acquired beneficial ownership of certain existing and future franchise rights. These rights were allocated to the US branch of the Luxembourg company. The royalty fees due by franchisees would first be paid to a Swiss branch of the Luxembourg company, which provided services associated with the franchise rights. The royalty fees would then be transferred to the US branch, deduction being made of a service fee to the benefit of the Swiss branch consisting of cost coverage, plus a profit mark-up.

Although royalty fees was booked in the US no tax was levied. This was due to the fact that the activities carried out in the US did not constitute a trade or business. The income allocated to the US branch was also not taxed in Luxembourg. According to the US-LUX tax treaty the residence State was prevented from taxing as (1) the US activity would constitute a permanent establishment under the Luxembourg interpretation of the treaty and (2) the existence of such a permanent establishment would oblige Luxembourg to apply the article on the elimination of double taxation. In a tax ruling Luxembourg found that the income would be exempt although not taxed in the US.

The Commission decided to initiate the formal investigation procedure because it took the preliminary view that the contested tax rulings granted State aid to McDonald’s Europe within the meaning of Article 107(1) of the Treaty and expressed its doubts as to the compatibility of the contested tax measures with the internal market. In particular, the Commission expressed doubts that the revised tax ruling misapplied Article 25(2) of the Luxembourg – US double taxation treaty and thereby granted a selective advantage to McDonald’s Europe.

Following the investigation, the Commission concluded that Luxembourg did not give a selective advantage to McDonald’s by exempting the income allocated to the US branch.

The conclusions of the European Commission on the issue of state aid does not relate to the arm’s length nature of the transfer pricing setup used by McDonald’s in relation to the European marked.

EC Mcdonalds December 2018 SA38945

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