EU lawmakers criticise inaction in debate on Pandora Papers

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EU lawmakers criticise inaction in debate on Pandora Papers

EU lawmakers criticised the bloc's finance ministers on Wednesday afternoon (6 October) for their inaction against tax avoidance, in a debate devoted to the Pandora Papers, in a report by EURACTIV.

The European Parliament had convened the debate on the topic at short notice.

The debate took place only a day after EU finance ministers took three countries off the EU's blacklist of tax havens, ignoring the advice of European Parliament members.

Many EU lawmakers criticised the finance ministers in the debate, EURACTIV said.

Paul Tang of the Socialists and Democrats voiced disbelief at the fact that Seychelles were taken off the list just two days after being mentioned in the Pandora Papers.

"It is an insult to citizens who pay their fair share of taxes," Tang said.

Lídia Pereira of the centre-right EPP called for the blacklist to be turned into a more effective tool, while Manon Aubry of the Left mocked the blacklist as a "carte blanche" for tax evaders.

"Whenever, wherever, we will find the tax evaders […] and we will make them pay," Aubry said, hinting at a song by the Colombian singer Shakira, who was herself implicated in the Pandora Papers.

Aurore Lalucq, a Social Democrat from France, voiced concern that the revelations could fuel anti-European populism as the repeated leaks could create the impression that Europe is unable to prevent tax evasion.

"But it is not Europe's fault, it's the fault of member states," Lalucq said, pointing to the lack of action by national finance ministers and to the tax havens within the EU itself.

Member states were defended by Slovenian Foreign Minister Anže Logar, who tried to reassure the Parliament that the countries removed from the list of tax havens were still being monitored.

Additionally, he explained that the decision to shorten the list had been taken by diplomats before the release of the Pandora Papers. The finance ministers were only meant to rubberstamp this decision and not to discuss it, Logar explained.

The lawmakers mentioned a variety of proposals to rein in tax evasion and money laundering in the future. Green and social-democratic politicians said they wanted the blacklist to include more countries, explaining that any jurisdiction that does not require shell companies to make their real owners public should be included in the blacklist.

Radosław Sikorski of the EPP, Poland's former foreign minister, was much more radical, asking the Commission why the EU could not make it illegal for European companies and citizens to hold accounts in blacklisted countries.

"And if it doesn't work, let's send the fleets to the Caribbean, seize the documents and expropriate the lot," Sikorski suggested.

Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni announced that the EU executive would present before the end of the year a legislative proposal to fight the use of shell companies to avoid taxes.

Some members of parliament called out Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, following the revelation in the Pandora Papers that he had secretly bought a castle in the south of France.

Marcel Kolaja of the Czech Pirate Party accused Babiš of hypocrisy and of "doing shady business".