Madrid, 21 February 2014 – In an important move with widespread implications for the defence of human rights and the fight against corruption, the European Parliament moved a step closer towards a legal obligation for companies to disclose their real or “beneficial” owners on 20 February 2014.

The progress came in the form of a vote in favour of beneficial ownership transparency by Parliamentarians in the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee (ECON) and the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE). The Parliamentarians voted that the future EU Anti-Money Laundering Directive should require mandatory public registries of the beneficial owners of companies.

Access Info Europe, an organisation which promotes the right of access to information, called on the full European Parliament to adopt the Directive with these provisions on transparency of beneficial ownership.

Access Info’s Executive Director Helen Darbishire explained the importance of the proposed Directive: “If this becomes law and the public can find out who really owns private companies, this will help to combat corruption, to investigate human rights and environmental violations, and to know who is behind the news we hear every day.

The Link with Media Pluralism and Freedom of Expression

Research by Access Info Europe, working with the Open Society Program on Independent Journalism, published in 2013, found that it is not possible to know who the beneficial or ultimate owners of the media are in two thirds of countries (13 out of 19 European countries surveyed). For more details on the research see here.

In 2013 both the European Commission and the Council of the European Union recognised the link between transparency of media ownership and protecting media pluralism and freedom of expression.

Fiona Harrison, Consultant Researcher with Access Info Europe on the Transparency of Media Ownership project, commented: “We welcome this move by the European Parliament and urge the European Union to adopt this Directive which will contribute to protecting a plural and diverse media space in Europe and hence to protecting the fundamental right to freedom of expression.

Access Info Europe noted that in 2013 many promises were made to increase transparency of company ownership, including commitments made by the G8 Countries in June 2013. Research by Access Info has shown that currently it is still not possible to get the full set of information contained in company registers in Europe.

If the EU’s Anti-Money Laundering Directive (AMLD) is adopted by the European Parliament in plenary in line with the position taken by the ECON and LIBE Committees, then any company registered in an EU member state would be required to provide information about its beneficial owner including: name, date of birth, nationality, jurisdiction of incorporation, contact details, number and categories of shares, and – if applicable – the proportion of shareholding or control. For details see Global Witness report here

» See the European Parliament press release on the vote here.