Directionless Directive

By Global Tax Weekly

The EU’s ECOFIN (Finance Ministers of the 28 Member States) had another futile discussion on the Savings Tax Directive last week. Futile not because the target of universal information exchange is unachievable – after recent events, most countries have already accepted it, at least at the level of individual taxation – but because the planned expansion of the Directive to cover companies, trusts and other “personnes morales” is something that the EU will be unable to impose on the third party jurisdictions which were browbeaten into operating the original Directive. And imposition on the third parties is something that would be self-defeating even if it were feasible, because it would only cover those jurisdictions such as Jersey and Guernsey over which EU Member States have some control, and there are plenty of options for wealth-owners in other parts of the world, including notably Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai, which will never in a million years agree to anything resembling the Savings Tax Directive. In fact, those Member States which have thriving “finance centers” such as Luxembourg, Austria, Ireland and the Netherlands will only accept the expansion of the Directive if it applies evenly over the current set of participants, which includes Switzerland, Liechtenstein, the Bahamas, the UK’s offshore dependencies, Monaco, Andorra, the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands among others. That is something which is very hard to imagine. Switzerland, for instance, in order to appease the EU, has already gone quite far towards weakening its attractions for the wealthy, but it is unlikely to commit suicide by throwing its corporate citizens and wealthy investors to the EU wolves. For such jurisdictions as Jersey and Guernsey, having to disclose the beneficial ownership of trusts along with information about their disbursements would comprehensively wreck their business models: what wealthy Chinese would put her money in a totally transparent Jersey trust when Hong Kong and Singapore are on her doorstep?

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