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Diverse group of stakeholders offer proposals for improving beneficial ownership transparency in the EU

At a high-level conference in Brussels, stakeholders agreed the EU has been a front-runner on corporate transparency but the need for ambitious changes is clear

On 30 November, more than 90 in-person and 400 virtual representatives from national authorities, EU institutions, civil society, private sector, academia and media met to take stock of progress and discuss findings from the two-year Civil Society Advancing Beneficial Ownership Transparency (CSABOT) project. Broad consensus emerged that ensuring availability of beneficial ownership information is critically important in the fight to stop the flow of dirty money, end tax abuse and prevent corruption.

Watch the recording: Curbing financial crimes in Europe with beneficial ownership transparency

Participants were united in the view that, despite last week’s EU Court of Justice (CJEU) ruling which invalidated public access to beneficial ownership registers, the EU should not lose its momentum towards greater transparency. Representatives of register authorities, the European Commission and Parliament confirmed their commitment to finding appropriate and meaningful solutions so that information on companies’ beneficial owners can remain accessible to as many stakeholders as possible – including civil society and competent authorities within the EU and internationally. This needs to be in full compliance with the CJEU ruling and in accordance with the fundamental rights enshrined in the Charter as interpreted by the EU courts.

Civil society actors play an important role in fighting money laundering and financial crimes – something the recent CJEU ruling also acknowledges. Participants provided powerful testimonials on how investigative journalists and activists have used beneficial ownership data to identify and expose corruption, money laundering and other financial crimes, and improve the quality of beneficial ownership information contained in the registers themselves.

As the new anti-money laundering package is being discussed in the European Parliament and Council, speakers and an engaged audience reflected on key reform areas to fully harness the potential of beneficial ownership transparency. These include:

  1. Adopt a harmonised, clear and ambitious definition of “beneficial ownership”.
  2. Enhance the accessibility and user-friendliness of beneficial ownership registers.
  3. Increase quality of beneficial ownership data.
  4. Strengthen interconnection of registers at the national level and across the EU.
  5. Ensure civil society can access and use beneficial ownership information.

About the project

The conference marked the upcoming end of the Civil Society Advancing Beneficial Ownership Transparency (CSABOT) project, which carried out the European Commission’s Preparatory action – Capacity building programmatic development and communication in the context of the fight against money laundering and financial crimes that was launched following a request from the Greens/EFA in the European Parliament. The project has been implemented by the Transparency International Secretariat together with Tax Justice Network, Transcrime – Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore and the Government Transparency Institute.

The project advances two main goals: ensuring that civil society actors become more active users of beneficial ownership information, and creating greater synergies between civil society and the EU in the fight against money laundering and financial crimes.

Through a series of local events, nearly a thousand stakeholders from civil society, the public and private sectors across 18 EU member states had extensive discussions on the state of progress and challenges related to beneficial ownership transparency. Nearly 200 journalists and activists in seven countries received training on the importance of beneficial ownership information and gained practical skills for effectively using this data.

The project also brought together 31 renowned experts from academia, civil society, media, public and private sectors as part of the Network of Experts on Beneficial Ownership Transparency (NEBOT) to exchange, debate and collaborate on ways for advancing this agenda in the EU.

The project demonstrated the value of dialogue between civil society actors, authorities and the private sector to establish alignment on key beneficial ownership topics and find solutions to pressing challenges, which should be maintained beyond the project.