AT first and maybe second glance, it seems crazy. Enda Kenny and his Cabinet have agreed that they’ll appeal against that European Commission ruling which says that the south of Ireland should be given £11 billion in unpaid taxes by Apple. The CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, says he’s very confident the ruling will be overturned, and says he find the Commission’s decision “maddening” and “political” (Well, as Mandy-Rice Davies said so long ago, he would say that, wouldn’t he? So would you, very probably, if you were in his very expensive shoes.) Mr Kenny is much more dignified and statesmanlike in his response: “This is about Ireland, it is about our people, it’s about us as a sovereign nation, actually setting out what we consider our appropriate policies.”
Now before you fall back on your sofa paralytic with mirth at the thought of Mr Kenny (i) saying this is about Ireland when he means it’s about the south of Ireland; (ii) saying that Ireland is a sovereign nation when six counties of that ‘sovereign nation’ are ruled from Westminster and (iii) saying nothing but nodding a lot when Angela Merkel wrote the south’s budget – as I say, before you crack up at these wrecking-ball contradictions, consider this: by appealing the European Commission’s decision, Mr Kenny is saying to them “You want to give us £11 billion? Nah – don’t want it”.
Assuming Mr Kenny hasn’t taken leave of his senses, why on earth would he refuse £11 billion? That’s what appealing the European Commission’s decision means. Try not to be lulled into some sort of patriotic trance by all that ‘sovereign nation’ high-grade hogwash. The day the Troika came to town and told the Irish government to apply some spine-stretching austerity to the Irish people in the twenty-six counties, that was the day when any notion of sovereignty went out the window. (Although I do accept your point, Virginia – it could be said that sovereignty went off the table nearly a hundred years ago, when the Treaty was signed.)
The thing you need to decipher is the message behind Mr Kenny’s flapdoodle talk of sovereignty. Can you hear it? Shhhh – it’s coming through now: “We don’t want to do or say, or not do or not say, anything that might upset Apple, because we depend on Apple for thousands of jobs.”
That’s why Mr Kenny has prostrated himself before the mighty god Apple and is happy to join Apple in contesting this most appalling of European rulings.
What’s appalling about £11 billion? Well, if Apple were forced to stump up, Apple has made it clear to Enda and co that it will take its technology and go home. Or more accurately, take its technology and all the jobs that means to some other, more flexible country. And it likely wouldn’t stop there. Because if Apple goes, why would Google and Facebook and all the rest not follow suit? Suddenly, an effective tax rate for Apple of €50 for every €1,000,000 earned seems a not-unreasonable rate.
It goes against my instincts but I find myself feeling some sympathy for Mr Kenny. It’s crazy but it’s true: it might well not be worth his while to collect the £11 billion. The last thing you want to see, if you’re a Taoiseach, is Apple and Google and all the rest shaking the Irish dust from their sandals and setting up elsewhere.
There’s only one answer to this international problem: inter-government co-operation. Left to themselves, the Apples of this world will hold governments to ransom. Tim Cook doesn’t say it but he doesn’t need to: the people in the south of Ireland are very lucky to have the likes of Apple setting up shop in the south. One peep, however, about hiking taxation and we’re off. And so Mr Kenny declares that he’s standing shoulder to shoulder with Apple, and what’s good for them is good for us.
As I say, there’s only one answer to this kind of bullying, and that is for the nations and states of Europe and beyond to act as one. If all potential host countries made it clear that being based with them means ponying up when the taxman calls, Apple and other such corporate giants would accept the modest 12.5% rate of taxation.
I mean, you’d settle for a tax rate of around 13%, wouldn’t you? Let alone the 0,005 Apple was paying. What calls the shots at present is a group of international bullies accountable to no one but their share-holders, with said group confronting democratically-elected governments and telling them to do things their way or the deal is off.
So here’s the thing. Are there any signs that Mr Kenny might grow a, um, backbone, and work with other elected leaders to force the bullies to back off? Oh look – there’s a squadron of pigs flying low over Dublin 4.