Chapter News

EU tax haven blacklist is not catching the worst offenders

  • Criterion to judge if a country’s tax system is fair or not needs to be widened
  • Countries should not be removed from the blacklist if they only make symbolic tweaks
  • A 0% tax rate policy should automatically lead to being placed on the blacklist
  • List has to be formalised through a legally binding instrument by end 2021

MEPs adopted a resolution pushing for the system used to draw up the EU list of tax havens to be changed, as it is currently “confusing and ineffective”.

The EU’s list of tax havens, set up in 2017, has had a “positive impact” so far but has failed to “live up to its full potential, [with] jurisdictions currently on the list covering less than 2% of worldwide tax revenue losses”, MEPs said. The resolution, adopted in plenary on Thursday by 587 votes in favour, 50 against and 46 abstentions, calls the current system “confusing and ineffective”. It rounds up the debate held on Wednesday evening with the Council Presidency and the Commission.

MEPs propose changes that would make the process of listing or delisting a country more transparent, consistent and impartial. Criteria should be added to ensure that more countries are considered a tax haven and to prevent countries from being removed from the blacklist too hastily, they say. EU member states should also be screened to see if they display any characteristics of a tax haven, and those falling foul should be regarded as tax havens too (PARA 9).

Quote

After the vote, the Chair of the Subcommittee on Tax Matters, Paul Tang (S&D, NL) said:
“By calling the EU list of tax havens “confusing and inefficient”, the Parliament tells it like it is. While the list can be a good tool, member states forgot something when composing it: actual tax havens. The truth is, the list is not getting better, it’s getting worse. Guernsey, the Bahamas and now the Cayman Islands are only some of the well-known tax havens that member states have taken off the list. In refusing to properly address tax avoidance, national governments are failing their citizens to the tune of over €140 billion. Especially in the current context, this is unacceptable.

That is why the parliament strongly condemns the recent delisting of the Cayman Islands and calls for more transparency and stricter listing criteria. However, if we focus on others, we also need to look ourselves in the mirror. The picture is not pretty. EU countries are responsible for 36% of tax havens.

Widen the scope

Parliament says that the criterion for judging if a country’s tax system is fair or not needs to be widened to include more practices and not only preferential tax rates. The fact that the Cayman Islands has just been removed from the black list, while running a 0% tax rate policy, is proof enough of this, MEPs say. Among other measures proposed, the resolution therefore says that all jurisdictions with a 0% corporate tax rate or with no taxes on companies’ profits should be automatically placed on the blacklist.

Tougher requirements

Being removed from the blacklist should not be the result of only token tweaks to that jurisdiction’s tax system, MEPs say, arguing that for example the Cayman Islands and Bermuda were delisted after “very minimal” changes and “weak enforcement measures”. The resolution therefore calls for screening criteria to be more stringent.

Fairness and transparency

All third countries need to be treated and screened fairly using the same criteria, MEPs say, stressing that the current list indicates that this is not the case. The lack of transparency with which it is drawn up and updated adds to these misgivings. They call for the process of establishing the list to be formalised through a legally binding instrument by the end of 2021 and question whether an informal body such as the Code of Conduct Group is able or suitable to update the blacklist.

Contact:

  • John Schranz, Press Officer | john.schranz@europarl.europa.eu  | econ-press@europarl.europa.eu | fisc-press@europarl.europa.eu

Compliments of the European Parliament.