Despite Panama Papers, EU Member States reject transparency

Added 20 Dec 2016
20 December 2016

In response to the Panama Papers, the European Commission has suggested a crackdown on shell companies by creating transparency around the true owners of companies. But today, EU Member States agreed on a negotiating mandate where they reject this idea, and instead opt to keep the status quo.

Currently, the EU only requires Member States to grant citizens access to information about company ownership if they can demonstrate a ‘legitimate interest’ in the information.
Tove Maria Ryding, Tax Justice Co-ordinator at the European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad), said:

“After the Panama Papers, EU leaders seemed very eager to create change, but now that the European Commission has tabled a concrete proposal to increase transparency, the EU Member States suddenly only want the status quo.

“Public registers are the only way to ensure that journalists, parliamentarians, and ordinary citizens are able to see the true owners of companies. Creating full public access also saves governments the cost of building up a system with confidential information, ensuring secrecy and deciding who has a legitimate interest in seeing the information.

“Several Member States have already committed to creating public registers of company owners, and thanks to the United Kingdom we already have a public register online. Requiring registers of beneficial owners to be public acts as an important deterrent for illicit activities, and makes it more difficult for criminals to lie about who owns companies.”


Media contact: Tove Ryding, Eurodad: / +32 491 208 790


  • Here is a table showing overview of the main changes made by the EU Member States to the European Commission’s original proposal for the Anti-Money Laundering Directive. It also shows civil society’s position:

  • AMLD: This is the EU’s Anti-Money Laundering legislation. The latest version of the Directive, AMLD IV, was originally published on June 5 2015. It stated that EU Member States should have registers of beneficial owners of companies but that members of the public, journalists and other interested parties could only access this information if they demonstrated ‘a legitimate interest’. This rule was not extended to trusts and other legal structures. Since countries began transcribing the rules, some have made the registers open to the public anyway (in the UK this has taken place, for example, but only for companies). 
  • Panama Papers: In April this year, a massive leak of more than 11.5 million financial and legal records exposed the system which has enabled crime, corruption and wrongdoing to be hidden by secretive offshore companies. The papers came from just one Offshore law firm - Mossack Fonseca, based in Panama. More about the Panama Papers can be found here.