Skip to content

Europe’s finance watchdogs sound alarm over plan to deepen economic ties with San Marino, Monaco and Andorra

In a joint letter, regulators warned that the three microstates’ “less rigorous” oversight rules could open a backdoor for illicit financial flows into the EU.

Europe’s top finance regulators have warned that a proposal to grant a trio of microstates more access to the European Union’s single market presents a “fundamental risk” to the bloc’s financial integrity.

In a joint letter, dated June 22, 2023, the chairs of the European Banking Authority, the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority and the European Securities and Markets Authority outlined “strong concerns” about the “ongoing negotiations” of an association agreement between the EU and San Marino, Monaco and Andorra.

The three tiny countries, with a combined population of roughly 150,000, are not EU members but have been seeking to deepen economic ties and remove trade blocks with their European neighbors.

First reported by Politico and subsequently obtained by ICIJ, the letter to John Berrigan — the director-general for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union at the European Commission, headquartered in Brussels — argued the jurisdictions’ “less rigorous financial regulations” could undermine the bloc’s efforts to regulate the financial services industry and crack down on money laundering.

Do you have a story about corruption, fraud, or abuse of power?

ICIJ accepts information about wrongdoing by corporate, government or public services around the world. We do our utmost to guarantee the confidentiality of our sources.

“[In] relation to financial services we strongly believe that there are important, fundamental risks to the integrity of the Single Market at stake,” the letter said.

The regulators warned that “the establishment of shell companies or the execution of activities with limited oversight,” could present “reputational risks” for the EU.

“Moreover, these jurisdictions may be prone to money laundering and other illicit activities,” the letter said, adding that the microstates’ existing anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism finance controls “may not be as stringent as those in place within the EU, notwithstanding the Microstates’ commitment to follow the relevant EU laws strictly.”

Several ICIJ investigations, such as the Panama Papers and Pandora Papers, have shown Monaco, Andorra and San Marino to be top destinations for opaque financial arrangements, attracting business from all over the world, including from countries with a track record of endemic corruption and human rights abuses.

For example, the Pandora Papers revealed that Svetlana Krivonogikh, a former cleaner from St. Petersburg who was reportedly romantically linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin, bought a $4 million Monaco apartment in 2003 with the help of Moores Rowland, a wealth-management firm based in the country. Its clients also included a Russian oligarch in Putin’s inner circle, Gennady Timchenko, though he denied any connection to Krivonogikh.

The leak also exposed close ties between Panamanian law firm Algocal, which set up thousands of offshore companies, including for Latin America’s elite, and Banca Privada d’Andorra, a private bank based in Andorra.

A San Marino official told Politico the letter had elicited “astonishment” within the country’s administration.

The governments of Andorra and Monaco did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the EU Commission said that officials had “taken note” of the views expressed in the letter.

“Since March 2015, negotiations have been ongoing with Andorra, Monaco and San Marino with a view to concluding an Association Agreement,” the spokesperson said. “In conducting these negotiations, the European Commission is guided by the principles that the [EU] Council put forward in its conclusions.”

The spokesperson added that the EU Commission, under guidance from the EU Council, will “specifically flag financial services as a sector” for discussion in upcoming negotiations with the microstates to ensure “robust supervision and enforcement in line with EU standards.”

An EBA spokesperson confirmed that the letter was sent, but said that it was “not intended for the public domain” and declined to comment on the letter’s contents.

“We will keep supporting the Commission on issues related to financial services in the context of the negotiations of possible Association agreements between the EU with Andorra, Monaco, and San Marino,” the spokesperson said.

The EU Commission spokesperson said the next round of negotiations is scheduled for mid-September, with a view to finalizing an agreement by the end of 2023.

ICIJ is dedicated to ensuring all reports we publish are accurate. If you believe you have found an inaccuracy let us know.