EU Commissioner Vestager on Apple tax penalty

European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager speaks during a news conference at the EU Delegation in Washington on September 19, 2016.
Yuri Gripas | AFP | Getty Images

Margrethe Vestager is the European Union's antitrust commissioner who handed Apple a $14.5-billion back taxes bill in August — the largest tax penalty for a U.S. tech company.

In an interview with CNBC's Sara Eisen, Vestager said the pushback has been what she thought it would be. Unlike the United States, Europe has a "third competition tool," which is a ban of state aid.

When asked how she got to such a big tax bill for Apple, Vestager first explained that the investigation was regarding the two tax rulings allowing Apple to put huge profits into Europe, "with no employees, no premises, no read activities," leaving only a "tiny fraction of their profits generated in Europe" to ever be taxed.

Given the large tax fee, Vestager said, "I think basically the very large figure is just an illustration of a very successful, very big company."

She said in the beginning of the interview, "We never questioned how Apple is organized. We do not question Irish tax code, that is for the Irish."

Both Apple and the Irish government are appealing based on a government tax break that the EU ruling said qualified as "state aid."

Vestager on Apple backlash