EU Member states today rejected the European Commission’s proposal to make information about who owns and controls EU companies and trusts public. Despite mounting concern from the public, fuelled by recent scandals such as the Panama Papers and the urgency to stop terrorist financing, EU member states have missed an opportunity to demonstrate they are committed to taking concrete action in the fight against corruption.
“More than a trillion dollars is siphoned out of developing countries every year due to money-laundering, shady deals and illegal tax evasion and the Panama Papers showed how anonymous shell companies can be easily used to launder money " commented Emily Wigens, interim Brussels Director at One. "It is therefore disappointing that EU member states have not taken this opportunity to implement critical action in the fight against corruption. Instead, they sought to defend the status quo by restricting access to information on company and trust ownership to those with a ‘legitimate interest. Only full transparency of who owns and operates companies and trusts can allow citizens and journalists to follow the money and ensure anonymous shell companies are not used to launder much-needed funds for the fight against extreme poverty. If these funds stayed in developing countries a portion could be taxed and invested in providing basic health care and education to the poorest communities. Several member states are already committed to making beneficial ownership information public and governments around the world, including in Nigeria and Afghanistan, are looking to follow suit. Publicly accessible registers are on course to become a global transparency standard – the EU should get on board rather than get left behind. It is now up to the European Parliament to agree enhanced transparency measures for companies and trusts and press member states to make progress in this area.”