Apple, Brussels, and Ireland’s Bruised Sovereignty

ATHENS – Despite their unequivocal Europeanism, the Irish have been serially mistreated by the European Union.

When Irish voters rejected the Treaty of Lisbon in 2008, the EU forced them to vote again until they delivered the “right” outcome. A year later, when private Irish banks imploded, threatening their (mainly) German private creditors with severe losses, Jean-Claude Trichet, the European Central Bank’s then-president, immediately “informed” the Irish government that the ECB would shut down ATMs across the Emerald Isle unless Ireland’s unsuspecting taxpayers made the German banks whole.

Ireland acquiesced, its public debt ballooned, emigration returned, and the country remains bruised and despondent. With the EU still refusing meaningful reduction of a debt burden unfairly borne by the younger generation, the Irish remain convinced, correctly, that the EU violated their sovereignty on behalf of foreign bankers.

Ireland’s greatest weapon against the ensuing debt deflation was its ability to attract US-based tech giants, by offering them a combination of EU law, a well-trained English-speaking workforce, and a 12.5% corporate-tax rate. Though the shell-like subsidiaries of global tech conglomerates have little positive impact on most households’ income, Ireland’s establishment is proud of its links with the likes of Apple. Now, the European Commission is jeopardizing the government’s special relationship with Apple by demanding that it claw back €13 billion ($14.6 billion) in taxes from the company.