by Andy Storey. Originally published in the Dublin Inquirer.
There is a seeming paradox at the heart of European economic governance, and it is one that has important implications for Ireland.
On the one hand, the European Commission has taken umbrage at the Irish government’s claimed conferral of special tax concessions (which they see, not unreasonably, as a form of state aid) on Apple.
Apple and the Irish state are appealing the decision, but, in the meantime, Apple is depositing the €14 billion the commission says it owes in back taxes into an escrow account where, in the unforgettable words of Father Dougal to Father Ted, it will be having a good long rest.
There are many other cases where a vigilant pro-competition policy seems a hallmark of the EU – for example, the €2.42-billion fine imposed on another US tech giant, Google, in June 2017 for abuse of its market-dominant position.
Closer to home, the commission launched a welcome investigation into Irish car insurers last year because of suspicions of cartel-style collusion and abuse of dominant market positions within the sector.
But when I previously noted that case, I also noted that the commission and other wings of European economic governance – especially the European Central Bank – have been much less opposed to governments giving (massive) aid to banks and other market-dominant financial institutions, at particular cost to the Irish taxpayer. In fact, differential support to the financial sector was insisted upon on a scale that must make Apple envious.