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News > World

Is EU List of Tax Haven Countries a 'Whitewash'?

  • A London protest against tax havens.

    A London protest against tax havens. | Photo: Reuters

Published 5 December 2017

European Parliament member Sven Giegold pointed out that “relevant financial centers like the United States of America are missing” from the list.

Following 10 months of investigations, the European Union has released a list of 17 countries, or overseas colonies, it deems as being tax havens.

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The finance minister of the economic block named those countries as being American Samoa, Guam, the Marshall Islands, Samoa, South Korea, Mongolia, Panama, Palau, Namibia, Bahrain, Barbados, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Macau.

However, some critics, far from hailing the list as an accurate, comprehensive picture of those countries failing to crack down on offshore tax avoidance schemes, branded it a “whitewash.”

British Overseas Territories, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, in particular, were excluded, despite having been named on the EU's June 2015 list. Their removal from the latest catalog was preceded by complaints about the methodology used to compile the former, according to the Independent.

A group of EU finance ministers from different states within the bloc, including the U.K., drafted the new list from their European Council's Code of Conduct. The main criteria for being outed as a tax haven was based on whether a country affords preferential treatment to businesses to transfer their profits in order to avoid charges wherever their headquarters are located.

Another 47 countries, noncompliant to rules outlined by the EU, but promising change by the end of 2018 or early 2019, were included on a secondary “grey list,” If their efforts fall short of the deadline, they too will be included in tier one of the tax haven lineup.

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Toomas Toniste, minister for finance of Estonia, which currently heads the European Council presidency noted that while countries committed to change will be “closely” monitored by “our partners around the world,” the list “is not just a one-off process” and will be regularly reviewed and updated over the years to “ensure that good tax governance becomes the new norm.”

Pierre Moscovici, Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs, tacked on to Toniste's praise, claiming the “adoption of the first ever EU blacklist of tax havens marks a key victory for transparency and fairness.”

However, Sven Giegold, a member of the European Parliament and economics spokesperson for the Green group, shrugged off all the kudos as being little more than self-aggrandizement, reminding that “the list is politically-biased as relevant financial centers like the United States of America are missing.”

He went on to say that the new list “undermines the EU's credibility that member states were only able to agree on a whitewashed blacklist of tax havens.”

Indeed, two U.S. overseas colonies – American Samoa and Guam – named on the EU list are also listed on the U.N.'s Committee of 24, a board of specialists advocating for the independence of remaining colonized territories.

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