By Francesco Guarascio
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union removed the British overseas territory of Bermuda, the Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba and Barbados on Friday from the bloc's blacklist of tax havens, leaving no EU territory still on the list.
The move left 12 jurisdictions on the list, prompting criticism over the EU blacklisting process, which was launched in 2017 after revelations of widespread tax avoidance schemes used by corporations and wealthy individuals to lower their tax bills.
The three islands were added to the list in March as they had failed for months to change their tax rules, which the EU deemed at risk of facilitating tax evasion in other countries.
But now Aruba has been removed because it has changed its legislation to make it compliant with EU requirements, an EU statement said.
Bermuda and Barbados have committed to addressing EU concerns and have therefore been moved to a so-called grey list of countries still under EU scrutiny for their tax practices, the statement said, effectively giving them more time to be fully compliant.
Bermuda's Finance Minister Curtis Dickinson welcomed the EU decision. He said there was still work to be done to improve the island's tax legislation on collective investment funds, about which the EU had still concerns.
"EU governments have once again let some of the world's worst tax havens off the hook," said Chiara Putaturo, of the anti-poverty group Oxfam.
"The reforms agreed by Bermuda, Barbados and Aruba will not stop them operating as tax havens," she added, calling on the EU to blacklist all jurisdictions that offer very low or zero corporate tax rates.
The EU does not automatically add to its list tax-free countries unless they have additional provisions that could facilitate tax evasion, such as rules on offshore structures aimed at attracting foreign profits.
Major jurisdictions that are still on the EU list are the United Arab Emirates, Oman and the three U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Belize, Fiji, the Marshall Islands, Vanuatu, Dominica, Samoa and Trinidad and Tobago also remain on the blacklist.
Blacklisted states face reputational damage and stricter controls on transactions with the EU.
The list initially comprised 17 jurisdictions, but it is subject to regular reviews. Countries with legal shortfalls are added if they do not amend their rules by set deadlines.
(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; additional reporting by Emma Farge,; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle, William Maclean)