Wednesday

16th Jan 2019

Opinion

Tax havens: You're talking nonsense Mr Commissioner

  • Moscovici defended the EU's approach on Tuesday (Photo: European Commission)

I was interested to see EU tax commissioner Pierre Moscovici's recent reaction to the Oxfam paper on the 'tax haven blacklist'.

Oxfam had foud that four EU states (Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, and the Netherlands) deserved to be on that list, which is due to be published next week, alongside 35 other jurisdictions, based on the EU's own criteria.

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  • UK should be one of six EU states on the list, Tax Justice Network said (Photo: Ralph .)

The Tax Justice Network worked quite closely with Oxfam and published its own study with broadly aligned conclusions. We said that, based on the same criteria, there should be six EU states on the list (Cyprus, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, and the UK) as well as 41 other jurisdictions.

Moscovici told MEPs in a hearing in Brussels on Tuesday (28 November) that the criteria Oxfam (and, by extension, the Tax Justice Network) had used were "far beyond" what the EU had agreed.

That's simply not true.

As we set out in the study, one of the three published criteria is indeed too vague for us to know what conclusion will be reached.

This was criterion two, which aims to target harmful tax practices and the actual achievement of inward profit shifting, which will be evaluated partly on the basis of information provided privately by jurisdictions to the EU's notoriously secretive Code of Conduct group.

It is, by deliberate design, impossible for outsiders to use this criterion in their studies.

Despite this, the Tax Justice Network and Oxfam studies sought to provide reasonable and independent approximations that reflected public information on harmful practices and on actual profit shifting achieved.

While necessarily different from what the EU will itself use, it is not at all clear that they went "far beyond" the published position.

If in fact they did go "far beyond", it would mean that the Code of Conduct group had decided to interpret the criterion in a very limited way in order to reduce the number of jurisdictions caught in the list.

Leaving the second criterion and the EU's deliberate obfuscation aside, the two criteria where the published description was a specific one still led us to conclude that a good many jurisdictions - 22 in total - ought to be listed.

This is the reason for our broad concern about Moscovici's remarks.

Despite the major limitations of the EU approach - the exclusion of EU member states from the outset, and effectively also of the US through the criteria design - it did appear to be a further step on the road from the old, political listings to an approach based on transparent and objectively verifiable criteria.

It appeared to be a shift from the subjective-type lists of the OECD, the wealthy nations' club, to the more objective system pioneered in our Financial Secrecy Index.

The commissioner's remarks suggest that they may be about to turn their back on this, and revert instead to a fully political list based on private discussions among member states and with third-party jurisdictions.

Such an approach would represent a step backwards even from the weak but public criterion of the 2009 agreement of the G20 club of advanced economies.

When the Paradise Papers broke, the Tax Justice Network called for an international convention to establish, once and for all, a set of minimum standards for jurisdictions to participate fairly in the benefits of economic and financial globalisation, as well as for counter-measures to go with them.

If Moscovici's statement reflects where the blacklist is headed, then the EU will rule itself out of any leadership role and the world will look instead to the G20 and the UN to move forward in a legitimate process.

Alex Cobham is chief executive of Tax Justice Network, an international NGO headquartered in the UK

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