Outbreak of ‘so whatery’ over EU tax haven blacklist

Cantillon: List omitted the bloc’s members but Oxfam says Ireland should be on it

It was certainly an improvement on the list recently published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which featured only one name – Trinidad & Tobago – but campaigners believe the European Union has much more to do if it is to prove it is serious about addressing tax havens.

The EU published a tax haven blacklist on Tuesday. It contains the names of 17 "unco-operative" countries. They include South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Panama and, of course, Trinidad & Tobago.

A further 47 were named on a “grey” watchlist, having promised improved co-operation. Among those named were Switzerland, Turkey and Hong Kong, alongside more familiar tax havens such as the Cayman islands, the Bahamas, Bermuda and the Isle of Man and Jersey.

However, campaigners complain that blacklists of this sort are meaningless and self-serving – hamstrung, in part, by their very source. Essentially the rich man’s club – the OECD and the EU – uses its rules to preserve their economic control over less developed economies, they say.


Indeed, the EU list examined only the behaviour of those countries outside its borders. Poverty action group Oxfam ran a study using the EU criteria recently. It found that, even on a conservative approach, using the EU's own criteria, at least 35 countries should appear on the blacklist.

And, applying the criteria to EU states, Oxfam found at least four – Ireland, along with the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Malta – would easily find themselves accommodated.

And then there is the issue of “so what”. As of now, naming and shaming is as far as the EU can go. It cannot yet agree what specific sanctions should apply to those named on any blacklist – making it little more than a paper tiger.

Publishing blacklists of tax havens is only a first step. Persuading states – including the powerful – to play fairly and by common rules is another thing altogether.