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Summary

  1. EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager appeared before MEPs on the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee.
  2. Ms Vestager is currently overseeing several high-profile investigations into the commercial activities of a number of multinationals.
  3. In August the EU Commission ruled that Ireland should recover up to €13bn from Apple in back taxes.

Live Reporting

By Paul Seddon

All times stated are UK

Session finishes

European Parliament

Brussels

And with that, today's sitting of the Economic and Monetary Affairs comes to an end. 

Background on the Commission’s Belgium tax probe

Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee

In January, the Commission ordered Belgium to recover €700m from 35 multinational companies after giving them illegal tax breaks.

The EU’s executive body ruled that a tax scheme in place since 2005 – which allows some firms to reduce taxable profits in Belgium by up to 90% - is against EU state aid laws.

Margrethe Vestager said at the time that the scheme gave “substantial tax advantages” to a select number of multinationals.

The so-called “excess profit” scheme has been on hold since 2015, when the EU announced its investigation.

Last October, the Commission ruled that tax deals held by Starbucks in the Netherlands and Fiat in Luxembourg were also illegal under state aid rules.

Read more here.

EU flags outside the Berlaymont
AFP/GETTY IMAGES

'No formal case' against Caterpillar group

Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee

European Parliament

Brussels

Belgian Socialist Hugues Bayet asks whether the Commission is intending to launch an investigation into the tax affairs of the Belgian subsidiary of the Caterpillar group. 

He argues that there is a case that the company's tax set-up in Switzerland means profits generated in Belgium are not being taxed there. 

Ms Vestager replies that there is "no formal case" ongoing against the company.

Hugues Bayet
BBC

Polish MEP questions cohesion spending rules

Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee

European Parliament

Brussels

Polish centre-right MEP Danuta Maria Huebner picks up from a recent report from the European Court of Auditors, which highlighted infringements of state aid rules on EU cohesion projects. 

Cohesion spending - which accounts for around for a third of the EU's budget - funds investment schemes designed to reduce economic differences between different regions in the EU.

Ms Huebner says the report found awareness of state aid rules in national authorities was "rather low". 

In response, Ms Vestager says the Commission is committed to providing advice, as well as training, to competition authorities in this area. 

Ms Vestager
BBC

Background on the EU’s Apple tax ruling

Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee

Following a three-year investigation, the Commission concluded that the US firm's Irish tax scheme constituted a breach of the EU’s state aid laws.

The standard rate of Irish corporate tax is 12.5%. The Commission’s investigation concluded that Apple had effectively paid 1% tax on its European profits in 2003 and about 0.005% in 2014.

In response, the US firm accused the EU’s executive arm of trying to “rewrite Apple's history in Europe, ignore Ireland's tax laws and upend the international tax system”.

The US Treasury has called such tax investigations "unfair" and undermined the tax rules of individual states. 

Apple sign
Getty Images

Irish tax rate 'not threatened by EU'

Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee

European Parliament

Brussels

Luke Ming Flanagan
BBC

Irish left-wing MEP Luke Ming Flanagan asks Ms Vestager to confirm that Ireland's 12.5% corporation tax rate "is not under threat" by the Commission.

He says he does not believe it is, but that a number of people in Ireland have made claims to this effect.

She says that it is up to national governments to set their own tax rates, but that the Commission is interested in whether the tax system is being used to provide state aid "by the back door", adding: 

12.5% corporate tax in Ireland is not being investigated by the Commission."

Vestager: No Brexit delay to LSE-Deutsche Boerse probe

Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee

European Parliament

Brussels

French Socialist Pervenche Beres asks what effect the Brexit process might have on the EU's investigation into the proposed merger of the London Stock Exchange and Germany's Deutsche Boerse.

The Commission announced its investigation in September, arguing that it had to make sure that financial markets remained "competitive".

Ms Beres asks whether a ruling could be postponed until after the Article 50 process is triggered. 

Ms Vestager says there are no plans to do this, adding that to do so would create uncertainty for business. 

Margrethe Vestager
BBC

Commissioner 'does not wish to label' countries

Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee

European Parliament

Brussels

Irish MEP Brian Hayes, from the ruling Fine Gael party, asks Ms Vestager whether she agrees with a declaration from the OECD that Ireland is not a tax haven. 

He also asks how countries are expected to go about recovering taxes ordered by the Commission. 

She replies that she does not wish to "label anyone" but wants to bring change. 

She adds that the Commission does "not investigate the Irish tax system" but rather tax rulings - and that it is up to member states how they handle recovery. 

Brian Hayes
BBC

Single market not affected by 'small scale' state aid - Vestager

Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee

European Parliament

Brussels

In a short opening statement, Margrethe Vestager tells MEPs that most state aid to EU companies is on a "small scale" and does not affect the functioning of the single market.

She adds that ongoing investigations are aiming to "make sure that companies pay tax where they make or record their profits".

She reiterates her support for plans to make the largest companies publicly report more about their tax affairs, adding that it would allow people to "hold corporations accountable". 

Margrethe Vestager
BBC

Who is Margrethe Vestager?

By Paul Kirby, BBC News

First it was Google, and now Gazprom. And the politician leading the charge is Denmark's no-nonsense woman in Brussels, Margrethe Vestager.

A star in Danish politics, she hit the ground running when she joined Jean-Claude Juncker's European Commission team in Brussels last year.

For Danes, she is as renowned for knitting, bread-making and tweeting as she is for tackling issues that no-one else has yet dared to touch.

Read more here

Margrethe Vestager
BBC

Good afternoon

Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee

European Parliament

Brussels

Hello and welcome to this meeting of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee at the European Parliament in Brussels.

This afternoon, MEPs will be taking evidence from Margrethe Vestager, the EU commissioner responsible for competition policy.

Ms Vestager is currently overseeing a number of high-profile investigations into the commercial activities of a number of multinationals.

In one of its biggest-ever rulings, the EU Commission recently ruled at the end of August that Ireland should recover up to €13bn from Apple in back taxes.

Ireland and Apple have both said they disagree with the decision and will appeal against it.