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European Union flags fly outside the Berlaymont building, which houses the European Commission, in Brussels. (Photo: Thijs ter Haar/flickr/cc)

'Not a Blacklist' But a 'Whitewash': EU Slammed for Letting Tax Havens Off the Hook

"How can anyone give this list any credibility?" asked Oxfam's tax expert after the European Union removed infamous safe harbor Bermuda from a roster that also exempts E.U. members.

Brett Wilkins

The anti-poverty charity Oxfam on Tuesday denounced the European Union's updated list of tax havens, which one expert at the group called a "whitewash" for removing one of the world's most infamous offshore safe harbors while exempting offenders in Europe.

"The current list makes the E.U. a hypocrite as major tax havens in Europe like Malta and Luxembourg escape."

The E.U. list of "noncooperative jurisdictions for tax purposes"—first published in 2017 in an effort to address rampant tax evasion—now includes Anguilla, the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos.

American Samoa, Fiji, Guam, Palau, Panama, Samoa, Trinidad and Tobago, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Vanuatu remain on the list, while Bermuda was removed.

"How can anyone give this list any credibility? Bermuda is one of the world's worst tax havens with its zero corporate tax rate. Yet, the E.U. took it off the list after it made a few woolly promises to reform," said Oxfam E.U. tax expert Chiara Putaturo said in a statement.

"To add insult to injury, major European tax havens like Luxembourg are not on the list because all E.U. countries receive an automatic free pass," she added. "This is not a blacklist, it is a whitewash." 

As the Panama Papers, Pandora Papers, OpenLux, and other investigative reports revealed how capitalist enterprises and the global superrich use offshore havens to avoid taxation—often through the use of shell companies—the European Commission last year launched an initiative "to fight against the misuse of shell entities for improper tax purposes."

However, Oxfam and others denounced the initiative—which excluded financial service firms—as inadequate while E.U. proposals to crack down on evasion and fraud have faced formidable obstacles, including from European countries like Luxembourg, Malta, and Ireland that have been called tax havens. 

"Nothing has changed," said Putaturo, who argued that the E.U. "should automatically blacklist zero- and low-tax rate countries and hold European countries up to the same level of scrutiny as non-European countries."

Noting the "free pass" given to members of the 27-nation bloc, Putaturo said that "the current list makes the E.U. a hypocrite as major tax havens in Europe like Malta and Luxembourg escape the list while countries outside Europe like Eswatini and Botswana risk being blacklisted."

"Stronger criteria could stop the industrial levels of tax dodging by the world's richest and corporates," she added. "Governments and ordinary people are facing the cost-of-living crisis. Ending tax havens could provide the much-needed hundreds of billions in revenue as the world's superrich would have to pay their fair share."

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