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MEPs from the Parliament’s Economics Committee have questioned Malta’s commitment to fighting tax avoidance and money laundering as it takes the helm of the European Union during a critical year in the bloc’s ongoing fight against tax avoidance.

A series of critical questions about Maltese political will in the fight against tax avoidance came during an exchange of views between MEPs of the Economics Committee and ECOFIN President and Minister for Finance of Malta, Edward Scicluna.  The meeting came at the start of Malta’s six-month presidency of the EU when the minister was also asked about his position on the forthcoming Brexit negotiations.

Pierkko Ruohonen-Lerner (ECR, FL) asked Minister Scicluna whether his country could promote tax reforms during its presidency when a Maltese cabinet minister and the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff had been named in the Panama Papers.  Her question was echoed by MEPs across the political spectrum including Fabio de Masi (Gue, DE) and Petr Jezek (ALDE, CZ) who asked whether the country’s anti-money laundering status didn’t tarnish its presidency of the Council. 

Malta “fully compliant” in tax matters

Minister Scicluna protested that many of the criticisms made against Malta as a tax haven were unfair and were made by those who did not understand the tax structure of his country. He said Malta was “fully compliant” with a number of international technical standards on money laundering and tax avoidance.  He added his country had also integrated European Anti-money laundering legislation into national law. 

But MEPs continued to grill the minister on Malta’s credentials in the fight against aggressive tax avoidance.  Sven Giegold (VERTS/ALE, DE), accused Malta of being a tax haven.  “Your tax position is to attract foreign investment.  Your policy is leading to Malta’s description as a tax haven....It’s not fair and it’s not European,” he said.

Public access to central registry of beneficial owners

The European Parliament is currently negotiating the update of its key Anti-Money Laundering Directive.  One bone of contention between political groups is how much public access there should be to a central registry of beneficial owners.  One MEP accused Malta of backtracking on an earlier commitment to allow open access to the registry.

It is a question of balancing data protection against transparency, replied the minister.  He said it was not Malta’s position, but that of the Council to make the registry available to all authorities that matter, short of making it public.

Maltese presidency and Brexit

Burkhard Balz (EPP, DE) and Annalise Dodds (S&D UK) both had questions for the minister on his likely approach to the Brexit negotiations.  Malta is likely to be chairing the Council if the UK keeps to its schedule to trigger Article 50 by the end of March. 

Minister Scicluna said Malta wanted to be seen as an honest broker in the negotiations, and did not want to see either side humiliated.  He pledged to try and “cool down” the situation, adding “it’s a divorce.  We will try to make it as easy as possible.”