CJEU Rules in Favour of Amazon and Luxembourg in State Aid CaseLeave a Comment
Amazon and Luxembourg state aid case – Introduction
On 14 December 14, 2023, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) delivered an eagerly awaited judgment in favor of Amazon and Luxembourg, upholding the May 2021 decision of the General Court.
This judgment dismissed the European Commission’s appeal, confirming that Amazon did not receive unlawful state aid from Luxembourg.
The CJEU’s judgment is definitive and marks a significant moment in the ongoing discussions around state aid and tax rulings within the EU.
The case centered around the arm’s length nature of a royalty paid by a Luxembourg operating company (LuxOpCo) to a Luxembourg partnership (LuxSCS).
The payment was for the use of intangibles like technology, marketing-related intangibles, and customer data.
In 2003, the Luxembourg tax authorities had confirmed the arm’s length nature of these deductible royalty payments, based on a transfer pricing analysis using the transactional net margin method (TNMM).
European Commission’s Stance and General Court’s Judgment
The European Commission had challenged this arrangement, arguing that LuxOpCo’s tax base was unduly reduced, effectively constituting state aid.
However, the General Court identified factual and legal errors in the Commission’s analysis and annulled its decision, a position now affirmed by the CJEU.
The CJEU agreed with the General Court’s conclusion but based its decision on different grounds.
Echoing its approach in the Fiat judgment of November 2022, the CJEU held that the OECD transfer pricing guidelines could not be part of the “reference framework” for assessing normal taxation in Luxembourg.
This is because Luxembourg law did not explicitly refer to these guidelines.
Thus, the European Commission’s decision was fundamentally flawed.
The CJEU concluded that even though the General Court had used an incorrect reference framework, its ultimate decision to annul the Commission’s decision was correct.
The CJEU, therefore, chose to rule directly and confirm the annulment of the European Commission’s decision.
Implications for Other Cases and Taxpayers
This judgment aligns with previous rulings in the Fiat and ENGIE cases, underscoring that the European Commission cannot enforce non-binding OECD transfer pricing guidelines over national legal frameworks.
However, these guidelines may still be relevant if they are explicitly referenced in national laws.
The judgment also has implications for the pending appeal in the Apple case, which similarly involves intragroup profit allocation and the definition of the correct reference framework.
Additionally, it influences other ongoing formal investigations, although details on these cases remain non-public.
Amazon and Luxembourg state aid case – Conclusion
The CJEU’s decision marks a crucial development in the landscape of EU state aid law, particularly concerning the application of transfer pricing rules and the boundaries of the European Commission’s powers.
It highlights the importance of national legal frameworks in determining the arm’s length principle and sets a precedent for future cases involving similar issues.
If you have any queries about this article on the Amazon and Luxembourg state aid case, or Luxembourg tax matters in general, then please get in touch.