Shifting EU goalposts demand unified regional response

The issue of blacklisting by the EU was raised last year with President of Estonia (l), pictured here with PM Dr. Timothy Harris and (r) and Secretary-General Irwin LaRocque (c)
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In the face of shifting goalposts and the deleterious effects of blacklisting of CARICOM Member States by the European Union, CARICOM is moving to intensify lobbying efforts and outreach to craft a credible process that is sensitive to the challenges they face.

EU Blacklisting was one of the matters on which CARICOM Heads of Government had intensive discussions during their two-day Intersessional Meeting which ended in Basseterre, St. Kitts and Nevis, on Wednesday, 27 February 2019.

Chairman of CARICOM, Dr. the Hon Timothy Harris, Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, and CARICOM Secretary-General, Amb. Irwin LaRocque addressed the matter at the end-of-Meeting press conference. They both pointed out that the stance by the EU was causing negative impacts including reputational damage, infringement of sovereignty and an assault on the economies of Member States.

Prime Minister Harris said that Heads of Government have asked the EU to cease blacklisting of CARICOM Member States that have already made commitments to reform their tax structures. He added that concern was expressed that there was an element of “irregular behaviour” in the process by which any country could be blacklisted under the EU system.

“We do not think that it has the appeal of a democratic process or a consensual process and we take exception to that matter. Each time there is one problem [and] that problem is addressed, by the next time the EU comes around there is a second and third problem. So the goal post keeps shifting in a way that makes management of the industry difficult and creates uncertainty,” Prime Minister Harris said.

CARICOM Secretary-General said Member States were “not simply going to be dictated to every time” and warned of recourse to other options.

“There comes a point when you have to say to them ‘if you’re not going to have some meaningful dialogue, if you are not going to have some understanding on the circumstances in which we are, then we’ll have to have recourse to other things. We have 14 Member States that collectively, when we act together, which is not infrequent, can have a voice internationally. We’ve done it before and we are seeking to see how we can do this again,” he told representatives of the media.

The Secretary-General pointed out that the EU had “set certain criteria which go above and beyond criteria set by the OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development], which is recognized as the international body that looks at matters of tax and good governance.”

“In particular, we are extremely concerned that opportunity for dialogue with Member States who are so blacklisted or greylisted is almost non-existent. We feel that it is a significant overreach into the sovereignty of Member States and we go so far as to consider it, especially for those Member States whose economies rely heavily on the international business sector, an assault on the economic economies of these countries,” the Secretary-General said.

A CARICOM delegation had travelled to Romania – which currently holds the chairmanship of the EU and its financial council – and Brussels earlier in the year. The EU blacklisting was also discussed when Heads of Government met Estonia President, Kersti Kaljulaid, who was their special guest at the Intersessional Meeting.

“We laid out certain strategies going forward… We are going to continue in our efforts at reaching out to the European Union and to friendly countries and to countries outside of the European Union to build a case for this matter…,” the Secretary-General said.

Prime Minister Harris added that there was “something capricious and irregular” about the process and questioned the jurisdiction of the EU to take the kind of punitive measures against Member States. Heads of Government, he said, have signalled that they found it unacceptable and have called for “a change of action”.

“We will through our lobbying efforts and outreach attempt to reach reasonable minds in the EU community and to ask them to share solidarity in doing the right thing, and to find a process that could stand the test of time, that is credible, and which is sensitive to our own challenges at this particular moment in time,” the CARICOM Chair said.

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