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EU blacklist exposes 17 tax havens

Charlotte Chelsom-Pill
December 5, 2017

The European Union has named and shamed 17 countries on a new tax haven blacklist. But the bloc's effort to crack down on tax avoidance has come under fire, with no EU member states included on the list.

Symbolbild Panama Papers
Image: Imago/M. Bäuml

European finance ministers adopted the blacklist on Tuesday following months of wrangling and last-minute bids from nations seeking to avoid being named.

American Samoa, Bahrain, Barbados, Grenada, Guam, South Korea, Macau, Marshall Islands, Mongolia, Namibia, Palau, Panama, Saint Lucia, Samoa, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia and United Arab Emirates were all found to be non-compliant with EU standards.

Read more: Offshore: the legal and the not so legal

An additional 47 jurisdictions were also placed on a newly established "grey list" — a roll call of countries which are also deemed non-compliant, but have committed to changing their tax rules.

Propelled by a succession of scandals exposing the practices of firms and individuals seeking to reduce their tax bills, including last month's Paradise Papers data leak, the EU has stepped up its efforts to fight tax avoidance.

The EU has said that by taking coordinated action as a bloc, it will be able to deal with jurisdictions who refuse to play fair on tax matters "more robustly."

However, a number of figures in the European Commission have expressed concern that the list does not go far enough. There are fears that as the list currently stops short of introducing concrete sanctions for violating EU standards, it may lack the teeth to truly serve as a force for change.

While heralding the list as an important step forward, Pierre Moscovici, European commissioner for tax, described it as an "insufficient response to the scale of tax evasion worldwide."

Aid agency Oxfam, meanwhile, went a step further, hitting out at the EU for failing to include its own member states on the list.

In a report published ahead of Tuesday's announcement, entitled "Blacklist or Whitewash," Oxfam listed four EU countries it believes would have been on the list had they been assessed under the EU's own criteria — Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands and Ireland.

Read more: Oxfam urges EU action on 'tax havens'

Aurore Chardonnet, Oxfam's EU policy advisor on inequality and tax, told DW: "This final EU blacklist is a bit disappointing. There are only 17 countries on the list and they are mostly tiny counties or even developing countries."

She lamented that several EU countries considered by Oxfam as "major tax havens" only ended up on the grey list. "It's a bit hard to ask countries to reform outside of the EU when you aren't even able to get your own house in order," she added.