U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew framed the issue clearly in a recent letter to European Commission PresidentJean-Claude Juncker, writing, "While we recognize that state aid is a longstanding concept, pursuing civil investigations — predominantly against U.S. companies — under this new interpretation creates disturbing international tax policy precedents."
The Europeans themselves should be wary, as the EU's actions could turn the region into an economic dead zone by depriving business of the certainty it needs to invest there.
Illustrating how far afield these investigations have gone, the EU has now threatened to launch a state-aid investigation amid allegations that terms of a tax audit were too favorable. Their approach is brazen: First the member state assesses a tax the company didn't believe it owed, and then, the EU hauls the company in for a second bite by focusing on why the company paid only the amounts assessed.
The U.S. government is not standing by idly – nor can it – as the EU goes after U.S. taxpayers in this unprincipled way. Leading members of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee have also expressed strong concerns with the EU's investigations. In fact, a bipartisan group of senators has asked the administration to consider using the president's authority to impose retaliatory taxes on taxpayers of European Union countries that discriminate against U.S. companies.