20th Mar 2018

States keen to protect identity of Europe's shadow rich

EU states are trying to stop the general public from finding out who really owns what in Europe’s offshore firms, trusts, foundations, and other opaque structures.

The anti-money laundering directive (AMLD) is entering the final stage of negotiations on Tuesday (16 December) in Brussels in so-called trialogue talks between MEPs, diplomats, and European Commission officials.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

It's designed to clamp down on tax evasion and organised crime.

Some campaigners say it could also have strategic consequences by exposing the scale of corruption in EU neighbouring countries, such as Russia.

The European Parliament wants national governments to set up a publicly accessible register on “beneficial ownership”.

“We are doing everything that we can to have that through in the final text of the directive,” Latvian centre-right deputy Krisjanis Karins, one of the assembly’s two lead negotiators, told EUobserver.

But a leaked compromise text, seen by this website, indicates that a blocking majority of member states is keen to maintain a veil of secrecy.

They don’t oppose creating the register. But they insist on restricting access to “competent authorities”, such as national Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs).

The commission’s proposal is to restrict access, but to let people who can demonstrate a “legitimate interest” - such as investigative journalists or NGOs - see the registry as well.

Tamira Gunzburg, the Brussels director of the One campaign - a pro-transparency pressure group - said Austria, Croatia, Denmark, France, Finland, Slovenia, Sweden, and the UK back public access.

But Germany, Poland, and Spain oppose it, while the commission doesn’t have a vote.

Some countries want the register to give the name and date of birth of the owner, while others also think this is too much.

Meanwhile, there is uncertainty on how to close loopholes on trusts - among the most tricky of the “discretionary structures” used by people to hide their wealth.

“The momentum for transparency is growing every day,” Gunzburg noted.

At the same time, Karins said "it's not quite clear in the end how trusts will or will not be directly handled in this directive … ideas are simple, cheap, and easy, but actually finding the language which casts the net properly is a challenge."


Pressure is mounting on the EU to do more after media revelations of tax-dodging schemes in Luxembourg.

Leading journalists from 23 countries last week wrote to commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, a former Luxembourg PM, to take action after the “LuxLeaks” scandal.

He responded to say he backs the AMLD register, but repeated the commission line that only people with a “justified legitimate interest” should get access.

The parliament’s Karins noted the AMLD and LuxLeaks cover different ground.

“This directive is really about money-laundering and terrorism financing, whereas LuxLeaks is a tax avoidance issue which raises serious questions about competition,” he explained.

But he said the Juncker furore has come up in the AMLD trialogues in terms of political atmosphere.


For her part, Elena Panfilova, the Moscow head of Transparency International, a European NGO, believes corruption also has a strategic meaning.

On one hand, state embezzlement in Russia has depleted the Kremlin’s rainy day fund and its ability to resist EU and US sanctions.

But on the other hand, clandestine Russian money is being used to influence European companies, politicians, and media.

Panfilova told EUobserver that if the general public in Russia could see how much of their taxes the nomenklatura has stashed in Europe it would harm Vladimir Putin’s popularity.

It might also help to rein in the administration’s greed.

“A strong AMLD is one of the most important contributions the EU could make to reform and rule of law in Russia”, she said.

“The missing money means schools not funded properly, hospitals not built. For Russian people it’s not funny money, it’s literally killing them”.

EU tax havens drain money from developing nations

Tax havens in places like Luxembourg are zapping billions of euros from the coffers of developing countries and forcing weak governments to rely on dwindling international development aid, experts say.

EU to probe UK 'election-rigging' firm

MEPs are to investigate whether UK firm Cambridge Analytica and Facebook misused private data to sway votes amid increasingly lurid revelations.

EU told to create coalition against fake news

After almost two months of talks, a panel of experts set up by the EU commission have issued a series of recommendations on how to fight fake news or what they prefer to term 'disinformation'.

Poland defends judicial reforms, warns against EU pressure

Prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki presented the Commission with 94-pages of arguments backing Warsaw's controversial judicial reforms - while his EU minister warns that constant conflict with Brussels could stoke anti-European sentiment.


Why has central Europe turned so eurosceptic?

Faced with poorer infrastructure, dual food standards and what can seem like hectoring from western Europe it is not surprising some central and eastern European member states are rebelling.

News in Brief

  1. EU leaders expected to approve Brexit future talks guidelines
  2. Tusk: EU must 'continue to engage' with US on trade
  3. European elections set for 23-26 May 2019
  4. EU tries to find common candidate for top UN food job
  5. Facebook post triggers Norway no-confidence vote
  6. Merkel: 'no reason' to sanction Schroeder for Russia support
  7. MEPs and Council strike deal on posted workers' rights
  8. EU parliament to investigate Facebook data 'breach'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EUobserverHiring - Sales Associate With 2+ Years Experience - Apply Now!
  2. EUobserverHiring - Finance Officer With Accounting Degree or Experience - Apply Now!
  3. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  4. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  5. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  6. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  7. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  8. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  10. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  11. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  12. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  2. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  3. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework
  4. Mission of China to the EUDigital Cooperation a Priority for China-EU Relations
  5. ECTACompetition must prevail in the quest for telecoms investment
  6. European Friends of ArmeniaTaking Stock of 30 Years of EU Policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Can the EU Contribute to Peace?
  7. ILGA EuropeCongratulations Finland!
  8. UNICEFCyclone Season Looms Over 720,000 Rohingya Children in Myanmar & Bangladesh
  9. European Gaming & Betting AssociationEU Court: EU Commission Correct to Issue Guidelines for Online Gambling Services
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina Hopes for More Exchanges With Nordic, Baltic Countries
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementCondemns Facebook for Actively Promoting Anti-Macedonian Racism
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal Seed Vault: Gene Banks Gather to Celebrate 1 Million Seed Collections