EU weighs screening member states over tax avoidance - official

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union is considering screening its own member states to assess whether they should be included in the bloc’s blacklist of tax havens, a senior EU official said on Wednesday.

In December 2017 the EU drew up a blacklist of jurisdictions whose tax rules and practices are deemed not in line with its standards. The list had initially included 17 countries and recently shrunk to six.

It was compiled after a global screening process which excluded the 28 states of the European Union, despite calls from lawmakers and campaigners to assess whether countries like Luxembourg, Malta, Ireland or the Netherlands should be considered tax havens due to their tax rules.

The new Austrian presidency of the European Union is now reviewing the mandate of the group that conducted the screenings and regularly updates the list - the so-called Code of Conduct Group on Business Taxation.

“The fact of screening the EU member states with the same criteria is under discussion in the context of the revision of the mandate of the code of conduct group,” the head of the body Fabrizia Lapecorella told the European Parliament’s special committee on tax evasion and tax avoidance.

The EU screenings were carried out after revelations of widespread tax avoidance schemes used by corporations and wealthy individuals to lower their tax bills.

Under EU guidelines, screened jurisdictions have to demonstrate that they “have no preferential tax measures that could be regarded as harmful” and that do not facilitate offshore structures aimed at attracting profits made in other states.

Changes to EU tax rules require the backing of all the 28 member states.

The six jurisdictions currently on the EU blacklist are Namibia, Samoa, Trinidad and Tobago and the three U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Blacklisted jurisdictions risk reputational damage and stricter controls on their financial transactions with the EU, although no sanctions have been agreed by member states yet.

Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle