Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

BRUSSELS — European Union (EU) competition chief Margrethe Vestager tempered expectations of a speedy ruling on Apple’s tax affairs in Ireland.

"Don’t hold your breath," she told reporters in Brussels on Monday about the timing of decisions targeting Apple and online shopping giant Amazon, whose tax affairs in Luxembourg are also under intense scrutiny. "I’m just warning you."

The two companies are slated to be next in the firing line months after the EU watchdog ordered the Netherlands and Luxembourg to recover as much as €30m ($32.9m) in back taxes from Starbucks and a Fiat Chrysler Automobiles unit respectively.

While Ms Vestager refuses to be drawn into speculation, analysts say that in the Apple case, repayments could potentially dwarf those amounts. Ms Vestager in January signalled she was willing to add Google parent Alphabet £130m ($184.3m) tax deal with the UK to her growing list of investigations. All of the companies cited by the EU say they have done nothing wrong and that any tax arrangements were in line with applicable laws.

Despite saying the next wave of decisions was not imminent, Ms Vestager said she would not wait for the EU courts to decide on pending appeals by Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Fiat against last year’s state aid repayment orders.

"No, we wait for the job being done thoroughly and with the quality that we want it to be done with," she said. "That is what decides the timeline."

Ms Vestager last month responded to criticism of the EU state aid probes by US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. In a letter sent to Mr Lew on February 29, she rebutted claims that she was unfairly targeting US companies, stressing that she was doing her job and that clawing back undue tax advantages "simply restores equal treatment".

While the EU’s tax probes have been focusing so far on US companies, including an ongoing investigation of the fiscal pacts of McDonald’s, the commission in January also ordered Belgium to recover about €700m in illegal tax breaks given to at least 35 companies, including Anheuser-Busch InBev NV and BP.