On November 22, 2016, the European Parliament approved the automatic exchange of banking and beneficial ownership data across the European Union. The directive received an overwhelming support from the Parliament: 590 members voted “yes”, 32 – “no”, and 64 did not vote.
Since the original proposal was already approved by the EU Council on November 8, 2016, the only issue left before the directive will come into force will be the final adoption of the directive by EU Council. Once the directive on the automatic exchange of banking and beneficial ownership data is adopted by the Council, the member states will have until December 31, 2017, to implement it.
The directive represents a major undertaking with respect to the automatic exchange of banking and beneficial ownership data. Once it is adopted, the directive will allow tax authorities of every EU member state to automatically share the banking information such as account balances, interest income and dividends. Moreover, the directive also requires the EU member states to create registers recording the beneficial ownership of companies and trusts. This means that the tax authorities of all EU member states will finally acquire access to the information regarding the true beneficiaries of foreign trusts and opaque corporate structures.
The idea behind the new legislation on the automatic exchanges of banking and beneficial ownership data is to provide the EU member states with tools to fight cross-border fraud and tax evasion, preserving the integrity of their domestic tax systems.
However, it appears that there are still serious implementation issues with respect to the new directive. The most serious problem is that the directive merely allows the automatic exchange of banking and beneficial ownership date in the EU, but it does not obligate the member states to do so. Furthermore, the banking industry’s role in the facilitation of tax evasion is not addressed at all by the legislature.
After the directive on the automatic exchange of banking and beneficial ownership date is adopted, the European Parliament is going to take up the legislation to provide for a cross-border method for accessing the shared information.
An interesting question for US taxpayers is whether any of the information acquired through the EU sharing mechanism will be shared with the IRS through FATCA. The likelihood of this scenario is fairly strong and may further expose noncompliant US taxpayers to IRS detection.