Economy

Juncker’s Irony, EU Leads Fight Against Tax Evasion As Apple Gets Hit

The EU Commission is taking a tough stance on tax evasion, as shown with the 13 billion euro bill leveled at Apple.

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker
President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker
Renaud Honoré

-Analysis-

BRUSSELS â€" Jean-Claude Juncker had only spent four days as president of the European Commission in November 2014 when an enormous scandal erupted. “Luxleaks,” revealed in several top European newspapers, detailed how Luxembourg had favored large-scale tax optimization while Juncker had been prime minister of the Grand Duchy for 18 years.

It is a supreme irony that two years later, the Juncker-led Commission is poised to become a leader in the fight against tax evasion, with this week's case against Apple as a centerpiece case. The Luxembourgian politician may well be rubbing his hands in glee.

The backlash against Apple for its alleged illegal tax arrangements with the Irish government â€" the EU says it owes the country 13 billion euros in back taxes â€" was not unprecedented. Before the American tech giant, U.S. coffee retailer Starbucks and Italian automaker Fiat paid unusually low taxes in exchange for basing their operations in the EU. Amazon and McDonald’s could be the next big ones on the list. Those earlier cases had been initiated by former EU Commissioner Jose Manuel Barroso and were expedited under Juncker.

Two years ago, when the European Union executive branch realized how difficult it was to fight tax optimization using existing legislation, it chose to tackle the issue with a unique tool: The so-called "state aid rules" that bar governments from giving special status to companies.

Transparency legislation

In the last few months, the various scandals surrounding tax havens have led to further legislative changes: New laws on transparency have been incorporated into fiscal policy, as has the OECD’s recommendations on combating tax evasion, which are now well advanced. Even though it had to scale back its initial ambitions, the Commission managed to maintain a tough stance and has achieved unprecedented progress after being largely hamstrung under the previous tax regime.

Although so much has changed in a short period of time, the Commission is likely to face increasing opposition from other individual EU countries in the wake of the Apple case. By ruling against Ireland’s tax arrangement with Apple, it has intervened in national tax policy, something EU states are likely to sorely resent.

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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