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NGOs Want Beneficial Ownership Registries in Open Data Directive — Orbitax Tax News & Alerts

Nongovernmental organizations are pushing for the inclusion of registries for ultimate beneficial ownership (UBO) in the EU open data directive. The way things stand currently there are several discrepancies in the transparency of UBO registries established under the fifth anti-money-laundering directive.

For example, the Luxembourg registry allows research only on individual companies, in Belgium, citizens seeking to access the registry must pay a fee and log into an electronic identification system and in Greece, the beneficial owners of companies will be informed if someone has searched for them, unless the inquiry was made by public authorities.

Poland and Portugal on the other hand require users to know the tax identification number of a company in order to search for its beneficial owners, and since Cyprus set up its registry under the fourth anti-money-laundering directive, only people who are able to demonstrate a legitimate interest can access the registry.

Except in the case of Cyprus, those restrictions to public access to the registries (fees, registration requirements, and so forth) are in line with the fifth directive, which is why a coalition of NGOs is asking the European Commission to bring beneficial ownership registries within the scope of the open data directive.

The open data directive was adopted in June 2019 after EU institutions decided that some public data is of such high value for society and the economy that it should be made available for reuse without any restrictions. The commission has been tasked with drafting a list of those "high-value datasets." Member states will be required to ensure their "availability free of charge and, where relevant, as bulk download," the commission said. NGOs maintain that making the information available in bulk would allow researchers to avoid spending a year trying to get the full picture.

The open data directive only establishes categories for the high-value datasets: geospatial, environmental, meteorological, statistics, and companies and company ownership and mobility. The final list is under preparation, under the so-called comitology procedure. The commission reportedly will open a public consultation on a draft list soon. The responses will then be discussed and put to a vote by member states, and the datasets could be adopted in the second half of 2021.