EU listing of tax havens

Briefing 21-10-2019

Broadly speaking, 'tax havens' provide taxpayers, both legal and natural persons, with opportunities for tax evasion or avoidance, while their secrecy and opacity also serves to disguise the origins of the proceeds of illegal and criminal activities. One might ask why establishing a list of tax havens or high-risk countries is useful. Drawing up such lists began with action to end harmful tax practices arising from the discrepancy between the global reach of financial flows and the geographically limited scope of jurisdictions that match or exist inside national borders. However we refer to tax havens, they all have one thing in common: they allow individuals or organisations to escape from taxation. Distinctive characteristics of tax havens include low or zero taxation, fictitious residences (with no bearing on reality) and tax secrecy. The latter two are key methods for hiding ultimate beneficial owners. In the EU, the process of adopting a common list of non-cooperative tax jurisdictions was initiated as part of efforts to further good tax governance, and its external dimension. On 5 December 2017, the Council adopted a first common list resulting from the assessment of third countries against distinctive criteria. Pursuing the assessment process, the Council has updated the list on the basis of commitments received, while also reviewing countries that had not yet been assessed. This briefing updates an earlier one, from May 2018 – itself an updated and extended version of a briefing from December 2017: ‘Understanding the rationale for compiling “tax haven” lists', PE 614.633 – to take account of the changes in the lists since that date.