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Politics & Law Series: Research Spotlight

Major new research project to expose scale of tax avoidance within EU

Three City academics are involved in the COFFERS project

by Ed Grover (Senior Communications Officer)

Researchers from City will play key roles in a major new project investigating tax abuse and money laundering in the European Union.

Entitled COFFERS (Combating Financial Fraud and Empowering Regulators), the project aims to discover how much government tax revenue is lost through avoidance and evasion, and suggest how the problem can be addressed.

It is one of the world’s biggest current research projects on tax abuse.

Professor Ronen Palan, of the Department of International Politics, is the City team’s principal investigator and will work alongside Professor Anastasia Nesvetailova and Professor Richard Murphy.

Professor Palan said: “This research recognises that there is substantial tax abuse within the European Union but that too little is known about it. The work is premised on the belief that tackling this abuse can help governments balance their budgets, reduce demands for austerity and, as a result, ensure that resources are available to tackle poverty and inequality throughout the member states.”


The City researchers have three distinct themes to their work:

  • Professor Palan is tasked with providing the theoretical underpinning for the project.
  • Professor Nesvetailova will focus on investigating the role of financial engineering in facilitating tax abuse.
  • Professor Murphy has responsibility for coordinating the output of all research teams in the project so that a new estimate of the EU tax gap can be prepared. He will have a particular focus on preparing new estimates of tax lost in the corporate sector, using new methodological tools based on country-by-country reporting data.

Professor Murphy added: “This is a rapidly changing field where a combination of civil society pressure, political awareness and the rise of populist politics is creating demand for more data and policy responses. COFFERS is intended to meet both demands.

“We will do the analysis but one of the key planned impacts of the project are two summer schools for EU tax officials that I will be directing at Copenhagen Business School. Knowledge transfer is key to our success in winning this project and to our success in delivering it.”

The City research team was awarded €638,000 to achieve their part of this project. The overall project is worth €5.0 million and is led by the University of Utrecht. It is funded by a European Commission Horizon 2020 grant.

The project commenced in November 2016 and runs for three years. The City team hopes to begin publishing research findings within a year.

The nine participating organisations in the project are: Utrecht University (Netherlands); Copenhagen Business School (Denmark); City, University of London (UK); Tax Justice Network (UK); University of Limerick (Ireland); Universität Bamberg (Germany); Charles University (Czech Republic); University of Leicester (UK); Istanbul Kemerburgaz Universitesi (Turkey).

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