Apple's tax shenanigans finally come under serious fire from the EU

From the Financial Times: "Apple will be accused of prospering from illegal tax deals with the Irish government for more than two decades when Brussels this week unveils details of a probe that could leave the iPhone maker with a record fine of as much as several billions of euros." European Commission preliminary findings from the probe into Apple's Irish tax affairs, where the FT reports it had a rate of less than two percent, reportedly show Apple benefiting from illicit state aid via backroom deals with Irish tax officials. The prospect of this emerged last June, and the fact the Commission is pursuing this avenue seriously is welcome news. It follows Senate hearings in the U.S. last year in which one expert, Dick Harvey, testified: "Apple does not use tax gimmicks? I about fell off...

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The EU's unwritten constitution

Britain’s constitution and its political practices are famously subtle. So subtle, indeed, that the British themselves seem to have forgotten what they’re all about. The UK is all set to dump the conservative tradition of constitutionalism and throw away its unwritten rules, conventions and political theatre. And so it increasingly falls to the rest of Europe to appreciate and understand Britain’s constitutional heritage. Continentals, accustomed to clunky formal rules, enjoy the nuances of Britain’s institutions. Some have even experienced at first hand the problems that Britain’s strange rules solve. So they instinctively understand, say, that the House of Lords co-opts powerful citizens who might otherwise act against the common good, or that the ritual trading of insults in Prime Mi...

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Karel de Gucht: enemy of the people

Serving lobster, foie gras and roast pigeon behind a gilded façade, La Maison du Cygne is reputed to be one of Brussels' finest restaurants. Karl Marx visited it when he was writing The Communist Manifesto, a tract focused on class struggle. Ironically, it has more recently hosted deliberations about how the power of the ultra-wealthy can be increased. On 24 March 2011, Karel de Gucht, the EU's trade commissioner, dined there with around 40 representatives of a corporate club called the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue. An internal European Commission report of the encounter indicates that de Gucht committed himself to pursuing objectives that harmed ordinary people and the world's poor. Among the topics discussed at this secret nosh-up were ensuring that global health and env...

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Message of ISIS: Please don't attack us.

The official spokesperson of the Islamic State (ISIS), Abū Muhammad al-‘Adnānī ash-Shāmī, gave a long and disturbing speech. It is an interesting statement as it clarifies the state of mind of the leadership of ISIS. It is of course also an alarming message as it calls its followers all over the world to kill who-ever they can get hold of. But above all, it is a new strategy to avert an American attack. I have made a selection of the most important paragraphs of the speech in order to understand what ISIS is trying to tell us. State of mind of ISIS The starting point of the psychology of ISIS is one of humiliation. The West has humiliated Muslim in all their ‘crusades’. Adnani especially mentions Iraq. The psychological goal of the Islamic State is clearly one of revenge for ...

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Crimean Tatars -- Persecuted and Harassed

Since Russia invaded and annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in March, the situation of the Crimean Tatars has significantly deteriorated. They are in an increasingly perilous position with Russia and the illegal Crimean authorities engaged in a campaign of repression, persecution and harassment. The latest example took place earlier this week when the building of the Crimea Tatars' self-governing body, the Mejlis, was impounded by Russia's Federal Bailiffs Service. When Crimea was annexed by Russia from the Ottoman Empire in the 18th century, the oppressed Tatars fled in a mass emigration. During 1944, Stalin deported the entire Tatar population, of which some 45 percent died of disease, hunger and thirst. Most of the Tatars presently living in Crimea repatriated after Ukraine became in...

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Why the EU must learn to think Scottish

Opinions in the EU are split. Some people believe that the Scottish referendum result will turn the UK into a normal EU member (with Britain becoming a continental-style federation replete with written constitution and consensual coalition politics). Others argue that the result will hasten the UK’s exit from the EU (as UKIP is strengthened by a resurgent English nationalism and the Eurosceptic Conservative party is buoyed by the collapse of Labour’s electoral base in Scotland). Either way, as London’s grip on power weakens ahead of its EU membership talks, most observers would agree that the UK has further lost control of its European destiny. But speak to officials in London and they will tell a different story. For them, the Scottish referendum battle provides a kind of test-run for ...

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Freeeeeedooom

I was talking to my Scottish friends the other day. They are so looking forward to the referendum to resume their normal lives. Having their hopes and doubts, but being very tired of the endless discussions, quarrels, protests, articles, TV shows… So now you know how we feel out there in Eastern Europe, with our authoritarian regimes and wars. Having our hopes and doubts, and these endless discussions and quarrels and protests. What we don’t have is an end date. The crisis in Ukraine vividly demonstrated the helplessness of professional civil society, of the opposition, detached from their constituencies. As well as the helplessness of the EU, devoid of an adequate long-term country strategy. Chaos in Donetsk and Luhansk are still ongoing, but also in Kiev. The events are often difficult...

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Good one, Mr Juncker!

Wasn´t this a clever way to go about things, dragging the fiercest critics of EU inside the tent to have them pissing out, instead of vice versa! Good choice to put Camerons´ buddy, British Mr Jonathan Hill, in charge of regulating the financial markets and the City. Who better to send back to London to explain why this needs to be done and counter the the British argument? And French Finance minister Pierre Moscovici will no longer be coming to Brussels to argue why the French must be allowed yet another – the third one, I believe? – exception to EU budget rules. Instead, he will be travelling to Paris explaining why the French need to follow the rules, like everybody else. Well, that takes care of, as we all can see, the tiresome arguments of the French and the British governm...

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Forget the law, we carry weapons!

They´ve been travelling down the same road for over a decade now, the Saudi businessman Yassin al Quadi and the Kurdish organisation PKK. They´ve spent a lot of time and efforts arguing in the EU court that they are NOT terrorists and therefore should be taken off the EU terrorist list (since being on the list, makes it impossible for you to travel or do any business in Europe). Them being on the list – in fact, the list´s whole existence, is a heritage from 9/11 and, I think, a mixture of EU governments´ fear of terrorists and a desire to make a strong gesture towards the USA. Mr al Quadi claimed from the start that he has never financed the al Quaida, supposedly the reason he came under suspicion. The US authorities claimed otherwise and put him on the US terrorist list and then ...

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Applying the rule of law in Georgia

Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was recently indicted by the Prosecutor of Georgia for abuse of power, embezzlement of state funds and human rights violations. Saakashvili’s supporters in the West have been quick to defend the former president and his co-defendants and to claim that the charges are politically-motivated. The EPP called them “unjustified”(1); US Republican Senators called them “unnecessary”(2). Back home officials from the opposition UNM, such as David Bakradze, have argued the move “will bring more confrontation and polarization to Georgian society”. As advised by the EEAS, Georgia certainly needs to “move beyond past conflicts and to focus on the country's future,”(3) but in order to move forward and to consolidate democracy and rule of law in Georgia, th...

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