European commission continues drive to combat ‘sweetheart deals’ granted to multinationals but critics say watered down proposals may open new tax breaks. A blacklist of the world’s 30 worst-offending tax havens, published on Wednesday by the European commission, includes the tiny Polynesian island of Niue, where 1,400 people live in semi-subsistence — but does not include Luxembourg, the EU’s wealthy tax avoidance hub.
Niue, situated east of Tonga in the Pacific Ocean, has appeared on tax haven lists before. But the island, which has an economic output estimated at just $10m (£6.3m) a year, has rarely been cast as a major threat to the tax receipts of Europe’s largest economies.
The list also includes various well-known havens — among them the Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands and Guernsey — but other jurisdictions that are commonly labelled as offshore tax avoidance hubs were notably missing. Jersey and Switzerland, for example, were not named.
Within Europe, Monaco, Lichtenstein and Andorra made it onto the blacklist. The commission explained, however, that the list of 30 “non-cooperative jurisdictions” was designed only to assess non-EU members. As a result, the new register does not include countries such as the Netherlands, Ireland, or Luxembourg — all of which are under investigation by the European competition authorities, suspected of offering “sweetheart” tax deals to multinationals.
The industrial scale on which Luxembourg — one of the richest per capita countries in the world — was facilitating the tax avoidance ploys of large corporations was laid bare last year in the LuxLeaks scandal.
Many years earlier, Luxembourg’s aggressive tax policy had been shaped by the Jean-Claude Juncker. Juncker is now president of the European commission, having served as prime minister of the Grand Duchy for 18 years.
In March, the commission responded to the LuxLeaks scandal by insisting EU tax authorities share with one another the tax rulings they privately grant to multinationals.
Six of the 30 tax havens named by the commission were British overseas territories — Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, and the Turks and Caicos Islands — but only one crown dependency, Guernsey, made the list. Twenty-one were small island economies, mostly in the Caribbean Sea, Pacific Ocean or Indian Ocean.