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Apple To Be Investigated By the EU Over Tax Affairs 155

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the coffers-running-dry dept.
mrspoonsi (2955715) writes "The European Commission is to open a formal investigation into Apple, Starbucks and Fiat in relation to tax arrangements with three EU countries. The firms' arrangements with Ireland, the Netherlands and Luxembourg will be investigated. Announcing the move, tax commissioner Algirdas Semeta said that 'fair tax competition is essential.' Last year, a US Senate investigation accused Ireland of giving special tax treatment to Apple. The European Commission will look at whether the companies' tax affairs breach EU rules on state aid. Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said: 'In the current context of tight public budgets, it is particularly important that large multinationals pay their fair share of taxes.' Countries in Europe cannot allow certain firms to pay less tax than they should, Mr Almunia added."
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Apple To Be Investigated By the EU Over Tax Affairs

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  • Click bait ? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Why single out apple in the heading?

    • Re:Click bait ? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardprice@gm a i l.com> on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @09:04AM (#47211863)

      Because its much much much larger than the other two companies mentioned, and the fact that Apple is directly named is of more interest to us tech geeks here on Slashdot than either Starbucks or Fiat...

      • Not to mention they were the ones recently accused of the same thing by the US. The other two were not investigated by the US, just Apple.

      • It should be noted that just as Apple funnel their European profits through Ireland, so does Google and Microsoft. Both equally relevant to tech geeks.

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        Apple invented the system and is the biggest abuser of it by far. Starbucks was in the news in the UK last year for tax dodging and I don't know why Fiat was singled out.

    • by ganjadude (952775)
      if i had to guess its because apple is tech, and fiat and starbucks are not

      and clickbait, cant forget the clickbait
    • by Megol (3135005)

      Because this is a tech website and the other ones listed aren't tech companies? Because Apple in many ways are rapidly approaching monopoly positions in manufacturing and some tech development?
      Because why not, people will complain anyway?

    • don't hide it any more in the pristine EuroCenter!

    • Why single out apple in the heading?

      Did you even read your own subject line?

    • Everyone has been doing it because they know the apple name gets attention. Same with the chinese labour. All tech companies have their hands dirty but apple got singled out. Apple has improved while others haven't I'm sure all of china's work force is happy that a minuscule number of them have an improved work life.
    • Why single out apple in the heading?

      More importantly, why pretend that the investigation is against the companies instead of the countries? http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/06/11/apple-tax-idUSL5N0OS2IU20140611 [reuters.com]

      The European Commission raised pressure on Ireland, the Netherlands and Luxembourg over their corporatetax practices, saying it was investigating deals the countries have cut with Apple, Starbucks and Fiat.

      The EU is looking at whether the countries' tax treatment of multinationals, which help to attract investment and jobs that might otherwise go to where the companies' customers are based, represent unfair state aid.

    • by Optali (809880)
      Because of these 3 companies it is the only tech company and this is a tech site ?
  • It's about time (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @08:40AM (#47211625)

    They shouldn't forget the other big IT companies - Google, Facebook, etc.

    • They shouldn't forget the other big IT companies - Google, Facebook, etc.

      Since when Facebook is an IT company?

      • by Xest (935314)

        Please elaborate, I'm intrigued, what exactly do you think it is? An agricultural company? A financial services company? An automotive company?

        What about Facebook as a business makes it not an information technology company when it's whole business is built around technology that deals with information?

  • by i kan reed (749298) on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @08:41AM (#47211641) Homepage Journal

    They're very diligent about keeping tax costs low and manufacturing costs very low. They use marketing and image to keep prices high. They pump as much money out of the middle class and as little as possible into the (world) lower class.

    Nominally, that's supposed to be how businesses work, but in that same nominal world, competition is supposed to bring prices down. Apple is the clearest example of how marketing and branding are tools to keep that from happening.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Nominally, that's supposed to be how businesses work,

      Yes.

      but in that same nominal world, competition is supposed to bring prices down.

      Yes, but it also brings purchasing power down, so there's an abundance of crap that only a minority can afford, and workers have to struggle ever harder to survive. Although his rants about revolution are without evidential basis, Marx's predictions about capitalism have mostly turned out correct.

      Anyone who finds their life getting easier - hell, anyone like me with the luxury of being able to post on /. on a weekday morning/afternoon - is part of a tiny minority. We could pretend that hard work got us

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        competition is supposed to bring prices down.

        Yes, but it also brings purchasing power down,

        But it also brings effective purchasing power up by bringing costs down, which in a healthy and competitive market results in prices falling still farther. No, what reduces purchasing power is the decreasing share of profits being given to the worker. Worker productivity has increased, but worker compensation in real money (adjusted for inflation) or as a share of profit has decreased for many decades running.

        Anyone who finds their life getting easier - hell, anyone like me with the luxury of being able to post on /. on a weekday morning/afternoon - is part of a tiny minority.

        While true, this is not a supporting argument to your point.

      • by khallow (566160)

        Marx's predictions about capitalism have mostly turned out correct

        Sure they have.

        Here's what brings down purchasing power: six billion more people who can do your job. Supply and demand applied to labor completely explains what has happened to the developed world over the past fifty or so years. You don't need a 19th century kook to think this through.

    • ...competition is supposed to bring prices down. Apple is the clearest example of how patents awarded for every stupid idea are tools to keep that from happening.

      I completely agree.

      • There's definitely an aspect to that too. I shouldn't have been so 1 dimensional.

      • by gnupun (752725)
        Of course you agree (the whole anti-IP crowd is here). But only some of those patents are stupid, the rest are worthy of patent protection.
        • If the majority of patents are anything but stupid, why is prior art such a big deal? Why is "first to publish" such a race? If a creation is truly novel, then prior art or simultaneous publication should be an amazingly improbable newsworthy coincidence.

          Patents are based on the idea that what you invent is non-obvious. I guess no one ever told most of the anti-free-competition crowd, but no matter how smart you are, there is always someone smarter. Nothing you create is non-obvious to everyone else. Y

          • by gnupun (752725)

            Why is "first to publish" such a race? If a creation is truly novel, then prior art or simultaneous publication should be an amazingly improbable newsworthy coincidence.

            Sometimes highly innovative things can be envisioned by multiple individuals at the same time. 2 or 3 divided by 7 billion is still highly improbable.

            Entrepreneurs don't want the trouble of having to compete. They want to buy a piece of the market, and sue anyone who dares to compete. Running a company and keeping up to date with progress is

    • by RLBrown (889443)
      Ideally, competition based on quality to price ratio in each market niche is how business should work. But every business man on the planet would happily embrace monopoly if it is his own monopoly. Capitalism is not about competition, it is about control. Against that, John Q Citizen has to depend on civil regulations to keep product standards high, and financial practices honest, for example, minimum wage standards, lemon laws, safety and health standards. But, what would happen if the USA had a minimum w
    • by Black.Shuck (704538) on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @09:23AM (#47212105)

      In the face of the last 17 years of Apple's progress?

      Does software write itself? Services? Store-fronts and their employees? How about hedging against future competition or cannibalisation? Against mistakes like MobileMe or exploding batteries? Against patent-wars with similarly well-endowed companies? Will the time come when they don't sell any more kit because everyone is too satisfied to bother upgrading anymore? Was the last WWDC Keynote an absolute firecracker because of the excitement over the new APIs, or a squib because they didn't announce an iWatch or a TV?

      You hardware guys are weird.

      • by Rob Y. (110975)

        No. Software is written, in the case of Apple, by programmers in the U.S. Then the resulting code magically becomes 'owned' by an Irish subsidiary that exists just to own this code and prevent that component of Apple's products from being taxed. I don't even think any money is transferred from the Irish subsidiary to US Apple which might count as income in the US. It's all a fiction to avoid taxation - which in turn requires the rest of us to pick up the slack.

    • by synapse7 (1075571)

      Apple lawyers to EU: Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.

      • Your user ID is small enough to remember that the Borg icon was reserved for Microsoft stories.

        If I was going to use any vivid imagery for Apple lawyers, it would be Tony Montana sat at his desk with a small mountain of Bolivian Marching Powder in front of him.
    • As always when it concerns the economy /. is mostly full of complete nonsense. Apple is a wealth GENERATION engine, no iPhones, no iPads etc. are taken from anybody by Apple and 'extracted', they are created by Apple and then redistributed into the population. As per usual the socialists completely miss the entire point of the economy and of free market capitalism, which is the engine that produces wealth at the rate higher than any other methodology ever discovered by humans on this planet.

      When a company

      • Yes, this is the politically correct interpretation according to libertarians.

        It's wrong though. The actual wealth generation occurs in some factory in Beijing.

    • by NetNed (955141)
      Why should Apple or any other US company be responsible to "pump money in the the (world) lower class"? Is Toyota or Sony pumping money in to the US lower class?
    • > They use marketing and image to keep prices high.

      They make some nice laptops too.

  • some countries like the USA tax all the worldwide income of a company like apple and google
    its impossible for any company to be in compliance with the law in every nation they operate in if they have to pay 30% taxes on all of their worldwide income to each of a half dozen countries

    • What we need is a uniform global taxation scheme so these corporate people can't slip through the cracks between countries. I say the UN should set up a bureau enact such a regimen.
      • I weep on the day such a thing occurs and people can no longer vote with their feet to flee oppressive or confiscatory tax rates.

        You may know them by their nom de du gerre, "their fair share".

      • by ganjadude (952775)
        the last thing we need is 1 global system. the UN would be the worst group to even consider. we dont need a N.W.O., we need choice, and if everyone on the planet is under the same rules of law, we as a species are doomed to slavery to those who run the N.W.O.
        • by dave420 (699308)
          'NWO' simply meant the standing of the world powers (the leader board, if you will) after the fall of the USSR. It was then co-opted by some lunatic conspiracy nuts who thought it sounded scary, and now is known as "the three letters by which you can know a paranoid lunatic". The NWO is not an organisation, or a goal, or a manifesto, or a cause, or anything - it's just a ranking of the post-USSR powers. Every time you use it people laugh at you, because they can see you don't really know what you're talk
      • by alen (225700)

        yeah, it's called taxing only the goods and services sold in your country. lots of countries have this

    • by gbjbaanb (229885)

      Maybe the US has to say to each company, you have to pay 30% tax as that's our standard for US-based companies, but if you've already paid that elsewhere, show us and we'll give you a refund equal to what you paid. So they end up paying 30% to someone.

      Trouble is, they just set up shell companies that are subsidiaries and say we made no money to pay tax on, because of all that IP we had to buy from shell-company-x, woe is us.

      However, if shell-company-x had to pay tax at 30% too, the US would give it a refun

      • by sjbe (173966) on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @09:57AM (#47212407)

        Trouble is, they just set up shell companies that are subsidiaries and say we made no money to pay tax on, because of all that IP we had to buy from shell-company-x, woe is us.

        The solution is basically a gross receipts tax, which does have its drawbacks but is a lot harder to dodge. I'm an accountant and take it from me that it is a LOT harder to fudge the top line than the bottom line. If you just tax profits then it is fairly trivial to shuffle money around such that you show "no profit". It's called Hollywood accounting [wikipedia.org]. All these schemes that Apple and others are engaging in are variations on Hollywood accounting.

        • by Tom (822)

          The problem is that to change the tax system fundamentally (which is very seriously required), you need the cooperation of those who profit most from the current system, because they've essentially bought our governments.

          So basically, it's not going to happen.

        • Washington State has B&O tax, which is basically a gross receipts tax. Microsoft still managed to dodge it for 12 years.

          • by sjbe (173966)

            Washington State has B&O tax, which is basically a gross receipts tax. Microsoft still managed to dodge it for 12 years.

            Not saying it's impossible to dodge a gross receipts tax. Merely pointing out that any accountant will tell you that doing so is more difficult than dodging taxes based on profits, particularly if it is a federal gross receipts tax. The hoops to jump through to dodge a gross receipts tax are a significantly bigger pain in the @$$. Microsoft did what you describe by recording software sales in Nevada through a shell company - and it's not entirely clear that what they did was actually legal in this case.

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

          The EU is moving to implement something like this. Tax calculated on the amount of business conducted in each member state, with corporation tax divided appropriately. Doesn't matter where the company is incorporate, if it does business in EU states it pays the taxes of those EU states in proportion, even if it is incorporated on some tiny Caribbean island.

  • Countries that adopt the business climates most favorable to large corporations often attract them to the detriment of other nation-states.

    The governments of countries shorted by the Irish model covet the money, too.

    It's difficult to sustain a socialist state from within, and not that the mega-corporations are without sin, but they've become the shakedown target of choice for systems starved for cash flow.

    • by rtb61 (674572)

      It is arbitrary where the company is based as long as tax is based at point of revenue. With regard to justification of costs, either they are taxed upon full revenue or they accurately substantiated costs whether local or foreign and exclude profit margins from those costs, failure to fully substantiate costs result in full taxes on revenue. All profit shifting to tax havens or tax discounting countries must stop, those countries that specifically set out to steal the social services of other countries sh

    • by ganjadude (952775)

      Countries that adopt the business climates most favorable to large corporations often attract them to the detriment of other nation-states.

      instead of yelling at ireland for their practice they should perhaps try to emulate them. I mean instead of raising the rates or trying to punish those who are sucessful, how about we learn from them and do the same??

      • by damienl451 (841528) on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @11:32AM (#47213357)

        They cannot just emulate them. Ireland derives their advantage from their having low taxes relative to other countries, not from having low taxes in absolute terms. What you suggest is a global race to the bottom, which may be the default "solution" in the absence of effective mechanisms for collective action. Each country has an incentive to attract more business by lowering tax rates, but, if all of them lower rates, most of them will probably end up with lower total revenues than if they could just strike an agreement not to engage in tax competition. This is what the European Union is trying to do.

        Whether it is good or bad depends on what you think the effects will be and on how important a weight you place on the welfare of large multinational companies (or rather, some combination of their employees, customers and shareholders, since the tax burden falls on people) versus the public purse and the welfare of their smaller competitors.

        This is one of the main reasons why countries are up in arms against these companies. Until recently, Starbucks was not paying corporate tax in the UK. Now, perhaps they were truly unprofitable, although it's hard to believe that such an iconic company would spend more than 14 years constantly opening stores without ever turning a profit AND would also tell investors that its UK operations were profitable when they were not. And there must be something deeply wrong with the UK market since many large, generally profitable companies (Apple, Google, Facebook) often fail to turn a profit there.

        The real reason of course is that they use outdated tax laws that were never meant to apply to the kind of international transactions that are possible today to artificially record profits where they will be taxed the least. This is perfectly legal but contrary to the spirit of the tax agreements that were originally meant to prevent rather than encourage tax avoidance. The arms' length principle worked well when a UK company used to buy tomatoes from its Spanish subsidiary to make soup (there are publicly-available market prices for tomatoes), but not so much today when it comes to valuing the right to use the Starbucks logo, name, products and processes. If you manage to pay artificially-inflated fees to a shell corporation in a tax-haven or another EU country that you have made a deal with, you can make it look as if you did not make any profit in a country regardless of its actual profitability.

        This makes no sense at all: how much you pay in tax is not a function of real economic factors but of how transactions between units within the company were structured on paper. And it is greatly unfair to smaller competitors who will have to pay taxes. Why should a small coffee shop pay at least 20% on its profits while Starbucks gets to pay a much lower rate even if it sells the same amount of coffee for the same price and has the same cost structure apart from the gimmick of using its own intellectual property?

  • Since some people feel let their moral affections and prejudice against rich individuals (sometimes deserved, sometimes not) cloud their judgement , I'm going to explain what's going to happen and why.

    (1) EU Government makes a big deal about "cracking down" on rich individuals because it makes the general public happy and the general public doesn't bother to double check anything anyway

    (2) Big ceremony with lots of speeches

    (3) Meeting between large companies representatives and lawmaker's staff. They have

    • LOL...three main reasons...

    • by Solandri (704621) on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @10:05AM (#47212465)

      In the end, if the game plays out correctly, low income individuals will still payer higher taxes, large companies will pay less taxes, but it will sound a lot like the opposite is occurring. You'll be happy and the economy will be slightly less screwed than if we listened to you and made companies actually pay 30% - 40% of their income directly to the treasury trough.

      Taxing corporations doesn't really gain you anything. If you shift 100% of the tax burden to individuals, they give up x% of their money to the government. If you shift 100% of the tax burden to corporations, the people still give up x% of their money to the government, just in the form of higher prices and lower wages. Income (money) is just a representation of productivity, and the only source of productivity is people. Corporations are just organizational groupings of people. Remove the people and the corporation's productivity is zero.

      There are good reasons to tax corporations - excise taxes to pay for regulation enforcement, VATs to discourage middlemen, etc., and in this particular case to prevent shifting of tax revenue out of countries where the purchase transactions were actually made. But taxing corporations doesn't magically increase government revenue or the purchasing power of individuals. Corporate taxes are still paid for entirely by you and me - we just pay them indirectly via higher prices and lower wages, instead of directly to the government.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        That's true to an extent, but the problem as I see it is that these large corporations are more able to use these tax avoidance strategies than smaller businesses and start ups. This means that they not only have economies of scale on their side but also a reduced tax burden. Smaller firms will thus be less able to compete and innovation is stifled. Eliminating corporation tax could be one way around this, but as you say, this would bring its own set of problems.

      • I'm surprised to read someone who realizes that taxing a corporation is just a hidden income tax. Well said.

        I disagree that there are good reasons for the Federals to tax corporations, because I recommend the Feds only being allowed to tax states directly, in proportion to their population and no other taxes, exemptions, subsidies or anything.

      • You are simplifying things too much. In a global economy companies like Apple may have next to no employees in Europe while collecting large amounts of profit selling goods manufactured by workers in China. Thus their income tax exposure in Europe is next to zero while their corporate tax exposure is actually quite large.

        Then there is the other side of the coin: small and mid sized companies that actually pay the corporate taxes which are at a competitive disadvantage because they have more tax expenses tha

      • by Tom (822)

        Taxing corporations doesn't really gain you anything. If you shift 100% of the tax burden to individuals, they give up x% of their money to the government. If you shift 100% of the tax burden to corporations, the people still give up x% of their money to the government, just in the form of higher prices and lower wages.

        This is what the 0.01% want us to believe, so they can keep corporate taxes low. It is, however, a very blatant lie.

        There are two ways that corporations can compensate higher corporate taxes. One is the way you allude, by passing the burden on to their employees and customers. But it's not the only way. They could also take a hit to their profits, which quite frankly are obscene:

        Apple - revenue 170 billion, profit 37 billion = 21%
        Google - revenue 60 billion, profit 14 billion = 23%
        Microsoft - revenue 78 bil

        • I've been thinking lately that perhaps corporate income tax should indeed go away, and that we wouldn't be any worse off for it... if we started treating capital gains the same as regular income, and tax it accordingly (I'd actually argue that it should even be taxed higher than wages, because it's economic rent, not a payment for the contribution of productive labor - but I'd be okay with a single scale).

          • by Tom (822)

            That's an old thought, but won't work. The reason is that people who have these insane amounts of money don't need to draw it as income. They can purchase things with stocks they own, for example. They can keep it "invested". Your tax gain would be much less than you anticipate, and of course there would be some exceptions and loopholes and they would be abused.

            If you want to return the world back to a different age where humans matter more than corporations, you have to tax the corporations high and the hu

            • They can purchase things with stocks they own, for example.

              At which point we count it as income and tax it.

              Are you specifically referring to the scheme that Steve Jobs used? The one where he'd basically take loans using his billions of stock as collateral, never paying them out, and then once he dies, his family inherits the stock, sells it (and now pays no tax on capital gains, because it's considered "reset"?), and repays the loans? That's just a straight loophole that we should close.

              • by Tom (822)

                I wasn't referring to that scheme in particular, because there are many such and I was referring to them in general.

                Because once you're super-rich, the rules of the game change. From what I gather from friends working in various industries that serve the 0.01%, these people have more ways of hiding their money then you and I have of making money.

      • Need to tax the walmarts and other who let tax payers pick up of the costs.

        There should be a h1b tax to cover the people who are out of work due to it.

        and the walmarts need to have a tax to cover the costs of the workers being on welfare

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        higher prices and lower wages

        This assumes that prices and wages are set based on profit margins. Clearly they are not. Prices are what the market will stand, Apple being the perfect example of huge margins even though other companies make equivalent or better products for far less. Wages are as low as the minimum amount required to get people to do the job required, and because welfare systems make up any shortfall that is often below what a person can live on without assistance. Essentially it's corporate welfare, as the corporation r

    • by khallow (566160)
      I think rather it is choice B). They'll shake down Apple for some bribe money. They could have done 1) without singling out anyone.
  • Pointless PR stunt. (Score:2, Informative)

    by pla (258480)
    This will end up as just another pointless "look, we actually do something!" PR stunt, with the inevitable outcome of a token "no admission of wrongdoing" fine that amounts to 30 seconds' worth of Apple's profits and probably doesn't even pay for the "investigation".

    I don't like that multinationals have perfected the art of gaming the world's tax systems, but I highly doubt Apple (and others) actually broke any laws here. Intra-company licensing fees make it trivial to shuffle both income and expenses ar
  • by dominux (731134) on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @09:56AM (#47212399) Homepage

    This is a very well known scam
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D... [wikipedia.org]

    the UK parliament is rather upset about it, assorted companies have been asked grumpy questions about their tax avoidance, in particular Google. The problem is closing these loopholes requires a lot of international cooperation and it isn't generally in the interests of the smaller countries to play ball.

  • by Required Snark (1702878) on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @09:59AM (#47212417)
    http://www.macobserver.com/tmo/article/eu-set-to-probe-irelands-tax-arrangements-with-apple [macobserver.com]

    Ireland's taxation laws allow multinationals to set up subsidiaries that effectively turn them into stateless entities whose revenues are subject to no jurisdiction. It's the definition of entirely legal tax avoidance, and Apple has been among the most successful companies in routing much of its international revenues and earnings through its Irish subsidiaries.

    Apple has conspired with the Irish government to move it's profit outside the space/time continuum. How else can you explain "revenues are subject to no jurisdiction?" That means the money has no legal presence anywhere on the planet. Or off the planet, as far as we know.

    There are lots of locations where the rule of law doesn't apply. There are places where many different legal systems claim to be in charge. There are places like Antarctica where the international community has set up treaties so that one one country has control. Apple has been able to secrete it's money so it is not in any of these places.

    They have outflanked the rule of law. They are in a literal sense "lawless": without law. Yet they make extensive use of the legal system and expect to have their business protected by civil and criminal authorities. It's corporate hypocrisy at it's most blatant.

    Why are they getting away with this? I have a counter suggestion: round up all current and former living board members, everyone who was a Chief Executive Anything, put them in indefinite detention and strip them of every asset they have. Why do the deserve legal protection when they have made it their business to be above the law?

  • by DickBreath (207180) on Wednesday June 11, 2014 @10:04AM (#47212451) Homepage
    The EU investigates Apple. And Toyota investigates Hovercars.
  • That's a nice patent portfolio you've got there. You say your entire business model hinges on intellectual property, some ephemera that requires a court system to adjudicate? And maybe some Customs officers to block infringing devices from the US market?

    Why, it'd be a shame if the courts and Customs didn't help. Kind of hard to be exclusive with just a bunch of paper backing you up..

    Of course, you report that income and pay those taxes, that's maybe something we could help you with.

    Or maybe your Irish fr

  • where they have just person who just picks up mail somewhere.

    One classic way of using these companies is buying and selling through them, which means that the owner does not need to report international operations conducted through the shell company and will be able to avoid any taxes on the profits. Shell companies are also used to conduct various other pieces of shady business, including selling supermarket brand goods without impacting the value of the main brand.

  • This is very bad for the Netherlands. It was in the paper this morning that because we are a tax paradise, especially for American companies, the Fortune 500 companies have 127 billion dollars stashed up in our country. If now suddenly the EU starts to meddle with the way we do business, this money may vanish and we lose a lucrative and easy part of our yearly income.

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