The “Panama Papers” sensation is a timely reminder of how governments depend on the disclosure of secret data to fight their declared war on international tax evasion. The finance ministers of the Group of 20 largest industrialized nations and emerging economies were on the verge of falling asleep at the wheel, yet again.
Granted, they have achieved more since 2009 than even optimists had hoped. In the midst of the financial crisis, then-German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück, a member of the center-left Social Democratic Party, and Angel Gurría, general-secretary of the Organisation for Economic and Co-operation Development, had placed the issue on the agenda, with their blacklist and verbal attacks on Switzerland.
Since then, the OECD has created an international standard for the automatic sharing of financial data, which 96 countries will introduce by the end of 2018. The Base Erosion and Project Shifting, or BEPS, project has also imposed internationally harmonized limits on corporate tax avoidance.
The only problem is that this year, in which both agreements were supposed to be implemented, the usual dithering has returned in many countries. It was questionable whether the United Kingdom would truly force its offshore financial centers to provide transparency. And in Germany, it wasn’t just the opposition that no longer believed that the country still wanted to be a pioneer in implementing the new European Union money-laundering guideline. The usual game of hide and seek got underway.
As long as the United States was not on board yet, and it was unsure whether China would cooperate, many European Union countries were unwilling to press ahead.