In the past, WMPW has documented European competition czar Margrethe Vestager’s repeated tiffs with U.S. multi-nationals—Google, Amazon, Starbucks, McDonald’s—which she’s targeted for antitrust violations or for benefiting from plum tax deals. She took on arguably her biggest opponent yet yesterday when the European Commission hit Apple with a record-breaking tax bill of $14.5 billion after determining that Ireland had granted the company illegal state aid for many years, giving it an unfair advantage over its rivals.
Vestager’s past enforcement against U.S. companies has stoked hostile relations across the Atlantic as U.S. officials have accused her of unfairly targeting American companies. She received similar criticism on Tuesday. A spokesperson for the U.S. Treasury said that “retroactive tax assessments by the Commission are unfair, contrary to well-established legal principles, and call into question the tax rules of individual member states.” Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote a letter to “the Apple community in Europe,” detailing the company’s contributions to Ireland and denying that Apple received special treatment. Even the potential beneficiary of the billions in back taxes had harsh words for the ruling: Ireland’s finance minister Michael Noonan plans to challenge the decision as a way to “defend the integrity of our tax system” (and its attractive 12.5% headline rate of corporate income tax—the lowest in the EU).
Vestager—who, as deputy prime minister of Denmark, received the nickname “Sultry Vestager” for her response to a male opponent’s criticism that her economic stimulus plan was “small”—responded to the backlash with her trademark cool and fierce adherence to what’s fair. “Not one rule has changed,” she said. “It is a question of paying unpaid taxes.” She even threw in a joke: “If my tax rate went down from .05% to .005%, I should have felt maybe I should have had a second look at my tax bill.”
Editor’s note: I am taking over for Laura Cohn as author of WMPW starting today. Please send me your tips and ideas with the links above and look for Laura’s byline on Fortune stories about women in business.
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