It is the EU’s goal to put an end to tax havens around the world – that’s what I’m fighting for. In order to achieve this, we have put pressure on many jurisdictions to change their tax laws and adopt European and international standards. Last December, Finance Ministers adopted a blacklist of tax havens – the first in the European Union’s history. This is not an end in itself. The objective is to get concrete commitments from the jurisdictions concerned. Some jurisdictions, which have already made such commitments, have been taken off the list: for example, I’m glad to say that this is the case for Tunisia – but Tunisia is not alone in being removed from the list.
But we mustn’t let down our guard – quite the opposite! Rather, the goalposts are shifting: in response to the EU’s call, about fifty jurisdictions have formally committed to respect the international standards. These jurisdictions have now been put on the EU’s « grey list » – in other words, they remain under close scrutiny! It will be up to them to demonstrate, over the coming months, that the commitments they have made have been kept and respected to the letter. This grey list is therefore at least as important as the blacklist!
European pressure has got the ball rolling, and in this sense it has already borne some fruit. We want these jurisdictions to comply with our expectations on transparency and good tax governance: the grey list is the first step. It puts these jurisdictions on a closely monitored path that will result in them removing the aspects of their tax systems that encourage fraud – failing this, they will be included on the blacklist. A positive dynamic has therefore been triggered.
The challenge now is to move from words to action, and from commitments to results.
I believe that transparency can make this possible. I hope that every association, every NGO, the media, and every citizen can play their role and become a close observer of our fight against tax fraud and tax evasion. That everyone can observe for themselves the nature of the commitments made and whether they have been kept. In short, that we can turn the page on the era of opacity and secrecy, at the level of states as well as of citizens.
I therefore formally and seriously asked the European Finance Ministers this morning to publish the commitments made by the jurisdictions on the grey list. These commitments are outlined in letters signed by the authorities of these jurisdictions. These letters must absolutely be made public so that everyone can be a judge. The Member States are responsible for this process and are therefore the guarantors of its credibility and legitimacy. Transparency will play a crucial role here. It is the guarantee of our seriousness with regard to the jurisdictions on the list, to our partners, and especially to European citizens.
Moreover, it makes sense for Europe to apply the same transparency standards to itself that it applies to third countries! These requirements apply to everyone, and we must be exemplary in our own behaviour. In the same vein, I hope that strong and credible sanctions will be agreed by the Member States to target the financial flows of countries on the black list. I will ensure that the European Union takes its proper responsibility.
It is in the interest of the jurisdictions on the grey list to prove that they are acting in good faith and that they have nothing to fear from public scrutiny of their commitments. It is in the interest of Member States to show that the approach is credible, transparent and democratically controlled. In any case, we will be extremely careful in the follow-up; there is a real opportunity to make this a shared democratic exercise. Crunch time will be the end of the year.