Ladies and gentlemen – good afternoon.
Financial crime is a big business. At any one time, we know that at least some of many billions of the annual transactions passing through the EU financial system will relate to criminal activity.
We are potentially looking at billions of euros in criminal proceeds. According to Europol, this is around 1% of the EU’s annual GDP.
Dirty money is highly mobile, and this makes it a complex challenge to deal with.
But we are determined to do so.
Time and again, we see criminals move it around the world with relative ease.
Each new money-laundering scandal sparks more public anger. It erodes trust in our banks and financial institutions, in our authorities and governments.
Most recently, we saw this happen yet again with the FinCEN case. This confirms the European Commission’s own reports and risk assessments from last July: that money-laundering is a global challenge that demands a global response.
We are committed to working with the United States authorities and all our global partners to fight money-laundering. If we are to succeed in fighting cross-border financial crime, we must all pull together collectively.
Dirty money should have nowhere to hide.
Over the last years, the EU has been ramping up its anti-money laundering rules.
They are now among the toughest in the world - but still not enforced equally across the board.
It is clear that we must do a lot more to shut off remaining loopholes, remove weak links, and coordinate better between EU countries.
Effectiveness, efficiency, enforcement: these are the thread, the ‘fil rouge’, running through the action and strategy that we take in dealing with money-laundering.
They should apply across the EU and across the world. This is how we can beat it.
It is nearly five months since I presented the Commission’s AML action plan, which proposes more stringent supervision and implementation of the rules.
I am pleased to say that the contributions that we received to our public consultation broadly support what we proposed then.
And as you all confirmed, no action is not an option.
Only 1% of respondents in the consultation thought that what the EU is doing is enough.
We cannot continue under today’s landscape of patchy compliance around the EU and just hope that the situation will improve.
Happily, respondents largely agreed with the areas that we identified where consistent rules are needed.
I also recognise that the way the rules are applied should not make life harder for honest, legitimate businesses or deny them access to business. This is the last thing we want to do.
So the EU needs clear and efficient rules that are also risk-based.
Ladies and gentlemen
Let me give a flavour of our thinking so far, and where we go from here.
Firstly, our plan is to present a package of legal proposals on anti-money laundering in the first quarter of 2021. The work is ongoing, and will be based on the action plan and consultation input.
I look forward to working closely with you as we prepare the legislation.
As I said, what we do to fight money-laundering must be effective on the ground. Let us also remember that criminals move very quickly to exploit any weak link in the wider financial system.
Here, I would stress that the European Commission is doing all it can to make sure that the rules are correctly enforced. The bottom line is that everyone must apply the rules consistently around the EU, whether it is in the public or private sector.
We have launched numerous infringement procedures relating to how certain countries integrate AML directives into national law.
As part of the European Semester, we work to ensure that EU countries properly apply AML rules in their own territories. We are following up on our findings, working with national authorities, and further investigating to sort out the problems.
And we will not hesitate to take legal steps if needed.
No divergences or systemic weaknesses that would attract criminals: the EU supervisory system is only as strong as its weakest link.
We know that national supervisors cannot do this completely alone – and this is why our action plan proposed EU-level supervision.
In the consultation, many of you said that an EU supervisor should not replace national ones, but should rather work with them. And I fully agree.
For EU supervision to work efficiently and seamlessly, we need an integrated system where national supervisors and the EU supervisor work effectively together, including by carrying out joint examinations.
Here, I would be in favour of creating a dedicated anti-money laundering authority with significant and direct supervisory powers regarding the most risky obliged entities.
While the financial sector should be our initial priority, the EU would also need to progressively and significantly increase supervision of the non-financial sector.
As a first step, I would suggest entrusting national authorities with overseeing that the supervision of non-financial sector obliged entities is carried out adequately. Here, the EU Authority may play a coordination role.
We could then look at the idea of more radical reforms - including direct supervision – that would apply for oversight of the non-financial sector in a second step.
The AML Authority should also check that all national supervisors have adequate resources and powers to carry out their tasks. Whenever needed, this could include on-site checks.
This would be the best way to monitor and to make sure that the rules are applied effectively and consistently across the EU.
In parallel, we should devise a single rulebook to clarify, strengthen and align AML obligations across all EU countries.
This is not about creating new obligations for the sake of it - but to make the existing rules easier to apply across the single market and to make sure that the rules are applied effectively.
It is essential for cementing EU supervision.
The FinCEN case made it clear that the increased number of reports submitted to Financial Intelligence Units - or FIUs - puts pressure on their resources. As a result, they struggle to carry out adequate analysis and follow-up.
We will put a coordination and support mechanism in place to support FIUs in the European Union, as a first step. This is vital for improving the detection of suspicious cash flows, especially those with a cross-border dimension, and for developing better analytical tools.
Again, we need to make sure that Financial Intelligence Units are operating effectively.
Do they have enough resources for analysis and follow-up?
Do they have the right IT support?
These units play a key role in Europe’s wider fight against dirty money. So we plan to support them in carrying out joint analysis, developing standards for reporting suspicious transactions, and providing IT assistance and support for exchanging financial information.
Ladies and gentlemen
Fighting money-laundering is a constant battle, and one that we have to win.
Our two keynote speakers know first-hand how difficult it can be to make sure that the rules are properly enforced.
Mr Gratteri, we are honoured to welcome you with us today as one of Italy’s most notable anti-mafia prosecutors.
You once said that it would be much more efficient to act on the preventive side than to judge a crime already perpetrated.
I would like to reassure you that this is the approach Europe is taking: putting structures and rules in place that prevent the flow of dirty money and therefore cut off funding for criminals.
And to Mr Molins: we all remember how terrorist attacks not only shook and horrified all of France, but all of Europe. You led the investigations in your country into many major terrorist attacks – from Charlie Hebdo, to Bataclan, to Nice.
We have heard your warnings against working in silos, and we are determined to show criminals that Europe can come together as one to stop them.
Getting a grip on this issue is also about better law enforcement and judicial cooperation – and we are working across the European Commission on this, and with other EU authorities.
To both keynote speakers, to our distinguished panellists and Honourable Members of the European Parliament, to our wider audience, to the citizens of the Union, I would like to say this: we have heard your calls.
No more weak links. No more loopholes for criminals to exploit.
We owe it to millions of people who rely on us to provide a safe and inclusive Europe where dirty money has no place. Thank you.