updated 10:36 AM CEST, Sep 18, 2021

Europe's 'accidentals' hoping for results, as EU Council plans follow-up meeting next week

Europe's 'accidentals' hoping for results, as EU Council plans follow-up meeting next week Dimitris Vetsikas/Pixabay

Europe's accidental Americans say they're cautiously optimistic that a recently-announced follow-up to last week's ECOFIN discussion on FATCA may at last yield results – at least in the form of an agreement by top EU officials to prioritize the accidentals' concerns, as these officials prepare to meet in coming weeks and months with their counterparts in the new Biden administration. 

According to a recently-published schedule for next Tuesday's "informal videoconference" meeting of the European Council's High Level Working Party on Taxation, the controversial U.S. law known as FATCA is earmarked for discussion, along with such other topics as the OECD's BEPS Inclusive Framework and "Addressing tax challenges arising from the digitalization of the economy".

FATCA, formally known as the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, is a U.S. anti-tax invasion law signed into law in 2010. It has introduced significant problems for American citizens resident outside of the U.S., because of  the significant reporting obligations it imposes on non-U.S. banks and financial companies that have American account-holders.

FATCA is particularly resented by so-called accidental Americans, who are citizens of other countries and who often were unaware they were regarded as American citizens as well, typically because they were born there or have an American parent, until their bank informed them. 

"Just having the subject of FATCA being discussed at this high a level of government is a victory in itself," said Fabien Lehagre, the U.S. born, France-resident 'accidental American' who founded and heads up the Paris-based Association des Américains Accidentels (AAA). 

"The member states are aware of the problem, and a meeting was agreed by the EU Council Presidency last December. So it is only a matter of time, we believe, before the European Union and the U.S. administration meet to discuss the issue." 

As reported here last week, the Feb. 16 videoconference of the EU's Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) didn't deliver any of the progress towards addressing the raft of problems FATCA causes American expats and accidental Americans that many anti-FATCA campaigners had been hoping for, beyond prompting the European Commission to reveal that it stood ready to assist those EU member states that were interested in challenging it.

Lehagre, whose organization has been one of the most visible and persistent campaigners for a major change in the way accidental Americans are treated by the countries in which they live and are citizens of, says he remains "optimistic" about the possibility that there could be some technical progress next week, if not necessarily a major win.

"We must not forget that there are 27 member states, and that the position of all member states must be taken into account," he noted.

According to the provisional agenda, a U.S. Treasury representative will be on hand next Tuesday to participate in "an informal exchange of views," but it's not known who it will be, nor whether they will be present during the FATCA discussion – which, according to the schedule, is lined up to be the second topic to be addressed, and immediately before the discussion with the U.S. Treasury official.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 2pm Central European Time, and will not be made available to public viewing. 

Unified EU voice to
challenge FATCA sought

Ahead of the ECOFIN meeting earlier this month, the mere fact that it was known to be planning to consider some of the issues surrounding FATCA had been viewed by expat American and accidental American campaigners as potentially significant, as it seemed to suggest that European Union lawmakers could at last be beginning to acknowledge the scale of the problems FATCA causes EU citizens.

Political opposition to FATCA, particularly in France and the Netherlands, has been growing, while a pushback at the EU level has also begun to be noted, led by certain EU politicians, including Dutch MEP Sophie in 't Veld, and marked by such events as a European Parliament Petitions Committee (PETI) hearing in 2019 on the topic, as well as a resounding majority vote of the European Parliament on 5 July, 2018 in favor of a resolution that called for the human rights of those affected by FATCA to be respected.

However, EU officials have thus far yet to present a forceful and consistent case for change to U.S. officials, FATCA opponents say.