EU competition chief defends Apple tax ruling on visit to Washington

Lynsey Barber
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Margrether Vestager takes pictures with her iPhone at a press conference in Washington (Source: Getty)

Margrethe Vestager, the EU chief who presided over the decision to slap Apple with a €13bn tax bill has met with counterparts in Washington in an attempt to smooth over relations on the issue of tax.

Vestager said she had a "good, frank discussion" with US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew about state aid and taxation but fired back strongly against accusations that the competition commission was unfairly targeting US companies in a speech in the US capital.

Read more: Brexit Britain could be new sweetheart after EU-US relations soured by Apple tax ruling

“Europe is open for business, but not for tax evasion. We have a different history in the US and Europe, and we don't always do things the same way," said Vestager as she announced a new investigation into a company closer to home.

"We have taken a number of decisions about illegal subsidies by way of tax rulings and schemes. And we continue this work. Just today, we opened an in-depth investigation into Luxembourg's tax treatment of the French electric utility company GDF Suez group – now known as Engie. Our concern is that tax rulings issued by Luxembourg may have given GDF Suez an unfair advantage over other companies, in breach of EU state aid rules."

Read more: EU takes closer look at more Irish tax deals

Prior to last months high-profile decision on Apple, the Treasury had warned of the implications of such tax probes, arguing that it will set an "unfortunate precedent" in international tax policy and could have a chilling effect on EU-US investment.

An alliance of top US businesses leaders last week wrote to EU leaders urging them to drop the case, saying "this decision must not be allowed to stand". However, Vestager asid she was not able to overturn the decision and the only recourse was to go through the courts, something both Apple and Ireland intend to do.

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