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Britain under pressure to end opposition to tax haven blacklist

the guardian

 Pierre Moscovici has been leading EU efforts on tax transparency. Photograph: Laurent Dubrule/EPA

Britain is under growing pressure to end its opposition to an EU blacklist of tax havens, as the European commission vowed to step up action on tax transparency following the leak of the Panama Papers.

Pierre Moscovici, the European commissioner in charge of tax policy, said he was outraged by the revelations in the leak of 11.5m files from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca. The extent of illegal activity was unclear, he told journalists in Brussels, but much of it was “clearly immoral, unethical and simply unacceptable”.

He added: “If these leaks reveal that EU law has been broken, or loopholes in our legislation have been highlighted, the commission will take, of course, appropriate action immediately.”

Moscovici, a former French finance minister who has been leading EU efforts on tax transparency, urged member states to throw their support behind his plans for a blacklist of tax havens – an idea dismissed last year by UK officials.

The Panama Papers made the commission’s mandate to act “clearer than ever”, Moscovici said.

The commission wants an EU list of tax havens, based on common criteria, to shine a light on “treasure islands”, such as Panama, that are resisting global moves on tax transparency.

Last year, the commission made a first attempt at creating a blacklist when it published the names of 30 “non-cooperative tax jurisdictions”. The list was based on EU member states’ own varying ideas and included the British Virgin Islands, Guernsey, Hong Kong and Panama.

The British government, which does not keep a blacklist of tax havens, criticised the move as “deeply unhelpful”. A briefing in the name of Treasury minister David Gauke, seen by the Guardian, described it as “a misleading list, since most countries and jurisdictions which are referred to are as transparent as EU member states”. The Treasury document went on to claim that “the UK’s overseas territories and crown dependencies have put themselves at the forefront of global tax transparency over the last couple of years”.

As the Observer reported in January, Treasury officials also lobbied Brussels against action against Bermuda, a tax haven favoured by Google.

Moscovici declined to criticise individual governments, but urged all member states to move forward swiftly in the next six months to agree the criteria for creating an EU list. “There has not always been sufficient support from member states for our agenda in the past,” he said. “We need the support of member states. It is not an option now, it is an obligation now.”

He cited the case of Lichtenstein, arguing that a deal to hand over information to the EU was accelerated because the principality wanted to get off the list.

“It is impossible to say this list is not useful,” he said. “But I fully agree that we need a better pan-EU list.”

The EU blacklist was heavily criticised for inconsistencies – not only by those who were on it – because the criteria for inclusion varied so much. While Portugal has designated 85 countries as tax havens, the UK and Germany do not publish blacklists.

 

“The reality may not be 85, but it is certainly not zero. I insisted on having this list in order to create a shock and a debate,” Moscovici said.

David Cameron said on Tuesday that no government or prime minister had done more “to make sure we crack down on tax evasion, on aggressive tax avoidance, on aggressive tax planning, both here in the UK and internationally”.

The prime minister said the UK had made huge progress with overseas territories and crown dependencies by calling for them to have automatic exchange of tax information, a single standard for reporting company taxation and registers of beneficial ownership.

Only eight EU member states designated Panama as a “non-cooperative tax jurisdiction”, although France announced on Tuesday that it would put the country back on its blacklist.

Moscovici said he was particularly concerned that Panama had refused to adhere to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development standards on financial reporting. “Unlike other countries on the pan-EU list, Panama has not been willing to enter into a constructive dialogue with the EU,” he said. “Without transparency, you cannot effectively fight tax avoidance and tax evasion, so I strongly urge Panama to rethink its position in this regard.”

EU authorities also want to use the outrage over the Panama Papers to bolster a planned clampdown on tax avoidance by multinationals. Next week, the commission will set out plans to force large companies to publish country-specific financial information to prevent them shifting profits to lightly-taxed subsidiaries. “After the Panama Papers, there must not be a single hesitation from anybody, that we need country-by-country reporting,” Moscovici said.

• This article was amended on 7 April 2016. An earlier version misdescribed Panama as “the island nation”.

Source: The Guardian

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