MEPs on the Economics and Home Affairs committees have been deeply divided by the recent addition of Tunisia on the Commission’s blacklist of “high-risk third countries.”

But in a close vote they failed to support -- by 28 votes for, 32 votes against, with 0 abstentions -- a move to reject the inclusion of Tunisia, Sri Lanka and Trinidad and Tobago to  the Commission’s list of third countries considered to have strategic deficiencies in the anti-money laundering and terrorism financing regimes.

 

As part of its obligations under the EU’s Anti-Money Laundering Directive, the European Commission is periodically obliged to draw up a list of “high-risk third countries”.  In mid-December, in line with its custom of following the lead of the international Financial Action Task Force (FATF), it decided to include Tunisia and the other two states to its blacklist.

 

“Surprise and incomprehension”

 

Ana Gomes (PT, S&D) echoed the views of many MEPs when she said she felt “divided” in her response.  She said she recognised that Tunisia was of strategic importance to the region and also to the EU.  But, “on the other hand”, she said her work as shadow rapporteur in this field had been driven by a determination to force everybody to live up to their commitments in the fight against money laundering and terrorism financing.

 

But Marie-Christine Vergiat (FR, GUE) expressed “surprise and incomprehension” at the inclusion of Tunisia.  She pointed to other countries on the list: Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen -- all war-torn countries which needed especial attention.  “I can’t understand how you can put Tunisia in the same basket,” she insisted.

 

The Chairman of the  Economic’s Committee, Roberto Gualtieri, had sharp words for the European Commission, condemning the initial statement from the representative of the Commission, Director General Tiina Astola, as “too bureaucratic to be serious.”   Mr Gualtieri suggested that Tunisia had been held to a more demanding standard than other countries that were not included on the list, such as Libya.  He wanted to know why. 

 

Following the Commission’s lead

 

But Bernd Lucke (DE, ECR) said that he was prepared to follow the Commission’s lead on the blacklist.  However, he asked that in future each new addition to the blacklist should be added through a separate delegated act so that countries were not assessed collectively.  

 

Burkhard Balz (DE, EPP) insisted that all three countries must give high-level declarations as to how they expected to meet the undertakings they had given to the Financial Action Task Force.

 

The MEPs heard from the Ambassadors of Trinidad and Sri Lanka, and the Tunisian Minister of Finance who all strongly protested their inclusion on the Commission’s blacklist.  They pointed to gaps in the methodology and a failure to recognise recent moves to address shortcomings in their anti-money laundering and terrorism financing regimes.

 

For the European Commission, Director General Tiina Astola, acknowledged the strategic importance of Tunisia to the EU and said it was a strong ally “in our common fight against terrorism.”  She said the North African country would be reassessed “as soon as possible in 2018” and if it was found to be implementing its high-level political commitments on anti-money laundering and terrorism financing, it would be “swiftly” removed from the list.  But she declined to give a timetable for its removal.