Thank you Jeroen,
We had a good ECOFIN meeting today and I’d like to thank the Presidency for its skillful chairmanship.
Ministers today endorsed the Commission's Action Plan to strengthen the fight against terrorist financing. We will now proceed with the implementation of the Action Plan. There are actions that will be taken immediately and those that would require more reflection.
To recall, the Action Plan has three main strands:
- 1st preventing and tracking financial movements potentially linked to terrorism financing,
- 2nd disrupting the sources of terrorist revenue, and
- 3rd encouraging international cooperation.
So, the first deliverable from the Commission's side will be a targeted amendment on the 4th Anti-Money-Laundering Directive. By June at the latest we will propose measures to:
- have better control of payment forms such as virtual currencies and anonymous pre-paid cards,
- set up central registers or data-retrieval systems for bank and payment accounts;
- ensure that Financial Intelligence Units within the EU have better access to information and that they exchange information more effectively among themselves, and finally
- ensure that due diligence checks are carried out for transactions with third countries that are high-risk in terms of terrorist financing. In June the Commission will come up with an "EU blacklist" of such countries.
I also welcome the fact that Member States show willingness to transpose the 4th Anti-Money-Laundering Directive into national law by the end of this year, well ahead of the official mid-2017 deadline.
The proposed amendment to the 4th Anti-Money-Laundering-Directive will be our first legislative step. Others steps will follow. For example, this spring the Commission will work on legislative proposals to complete and improve the rules on asset freezes. We need to reduce the time it takes to transpose United Nations listings under the Al-Qaeda and Daesh regimes into EU law. We also need to make sure that new UN listings are made accessible to EU financial and economic operators immediately after their publication at UN level.
We will also propose a legislation to harmonise definitions of Member States' criminal offences and sanctions for money laundering. Today all Member States have made money laundering illegal. But there are differences between Member States as to the definition of money laundering and the sanctions applied. These differences create obstacles in cross-border judicial and police cooperation to tackle this crime. Our objective is to present proposals, by the end of 2016, to amend, to change, this situation.
Regarding the illicit movements of cash, today Ministers have invited the Commission to explore the need and the relevance for upper limits for cash payments. And Ministers have also asked the Commission to work together with the European Central Bank and Europol to consider appropriate measures regarding high denomination notes, in particular the use of the EUR 500 note, which is a problem reported by law enforcement authorities. We will report back to the Ministers by May 1st this year, as requested.
Moving onto the next topic, today Ministers had the first exchange of views on the Anti-Tax Avoidance Package that the Commission presented at the beginning of the year. As you know, the package aims to put in place a coordinated EU-wide response to corporate tax avoidance, following global standards developed by the OECD last autumn.
According to recent studies, between 50 and 70 billion euros that should be benefitting our economies and our societies are lost every year to tax avoidance. If we are successful in our fight against tax avoidance, it will mean more money for public budgets. Clearly, it is urgent to act now. Our Member States clearly share the need to tackle this issue and we fully support the Presidency's ambition to move forward swiftly on adopting this package.
Finally, I would mention that Ministers adopted the Council's guidelines for the 2017 budget, which we welcome. We share the main challenge identified by Member States: how to ensure that the EU budget can face emergency situations - such as the refugee crisis - while fully supporting our policy priorities aimed at powering growth, employment and convergence. Addressing this double constraint will be at the core of our concerns and discussions while preparing the draft budget for 2017. Of course at this stage we can only guess what the next "unforeseen circumstances will be". So, while leaving the option for flexibility to address the challenges that could arise, we will create our draft budget based on the hard facts, the commitments already taken and the most accurate data we have at our disposal.