Ronald Ariës, a retired Dutch airline pilot who was born in the U.S. but grew up with his Dutch parents in the Netherlands, has taken his fight to be allowed to keep his Dutch bank account – without being forced to agree to U.S. demands that he acknowledge what it regards as his American citizenship – to the European Parliament, by filing a petition with its Committee on Petitions (PETI).
Ariës (pictured left, in the cockpit of one of the planes he used to fly), says the reason he's taking his case to the EU is the same as the reason that led him to take his Dutch bank to court last year, rather than agree to its insistence that he enter the U.S. tax and citizenship system so that it would be able to report certain details about him and his assets to the U.S. authorities, as required by the U.S. law known as FATCA.
And that reason is, he explains, is because he thinks that “as a European citizen, I have rights, one of which is that I am entitled to have a bank account in the European country that I’m a citizen and life-long resident of.”
Under an EU law known as the Payment Accounts Directive, EU banks are obliged to provide a basic bank account to any EU citizen who wishes to have one.
Ariës says that while it’s obviously wrong for the U.S. to insist that he's American, just because he was born there – since he left as a baby and never returned, “lived my whole life in the Netherlands, and never received anything from the U.S.,” the focus of his EU Parliament petition is actually on the EU – and what he says has been its failure to protect his rights as well as those of the other estimated 300,000 other dual U.S./EU citizens like him, who are being “extra-territorially oppressed” by the U.S.
“My petition is meant as a recall – that is, to remind the European Parliament that they have already been notified of these issues in the past, and until now, have done nothing,” he says.
“I, and other EU citizens like me, are entitled to have a normal life, including to have a bank account.
“The cost of renouncing the American citizenship the U.S. government says I have would be very expensive, when you take into account all the costs, including having to hire tax advisers to ensure it’s done correctly, the exit taxes and so on.
"And I detest as well the fact that if I were to agree to do as the bank says I must, my personal data would be shared [with the U.S. government], when it should, instead, be protected by the EU GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation].”
As reported, a Dutch court ruled in late December that a Dutch bank would be within its rights to close the bank account of an "accidental" American such as Ariës, who has refused to enter into the U.S. tax system, and who therefore would not be able to supply such information to the bank as a Social Security Number or U.S. Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN), which the U.S. government requires the bank to provide it with.
(In the Netherlands, "accidentals" are typically referred to as "unintentional Americans".)
News of the ruling was thought to have hit many other accidentals in the Netherlands hard, as many of them have been struggling with the requirement to enter the U.S. tax system in order to obtain the information their Dutch banks have been telling them they need, if they wish to keep their bank accounts.
According to Ariës, the Dutch government has told other U.S./Dutch citizens resident in the Netherlands that they have until the end of 2021 to provide the necessary information to their banks; owing to his court case and other technicalities, however, he says he only has until the end of October before his account will be closed.
The U.S. isn't the only country that considers those born within its borders entitled to be considered citizens, but it is (increasingly famously) the only one besides Eritrea that taxes on the basis of citizenship rather than residency.
American citizenship is also is said to be the most difficult and expensive in the world to give up, requiring those wishing to do so to pay a renunciation fee of US$2,350 as well as to be able to prove U.S. tax compliance for a certain number of years prior to the date of renunciation, and, for those with assets above US$2million, an "exit tax" based on the individual's total net worth, if their assets were to be sold at the time of renunciation, must also be paid.
47 petition signatories so far
In his petition, which thus far has been signed by 47 people since it was posted on Dec. 15, Ariës calls on European Union lawmakers to address the problems dual U.S./European citizens like him have been having.
A summary of his petition, on the PETI website, notes that he has said that he personally "began to have problems with the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA)" after he changed his bank in November 2018. He also points out that the Committee on Petitions has consistently failed to act on the issues that have been causing his own problems, even though they had been raised by others, including another petitioner.
"He calls for the issue to be put back on the agenda of the U.S. Biden administration, and for more to be done than seeking a letter from the E.U. Presidency," the summary concludes.
In a separate correspondence with the Committee on Petitions, Ariës this week sent an email of complaint about how difficult it is for a European citizen to submit a petition to PETI – and then, once one's petition is in place, how off-putting it is for those who are interested in showing their support by signing it when they discover "that they have to register and create an account." Many quit rather than do this, he pointed out.
"I submitted my petition on Dec. 15, 2020, and since that date I did not receive any notification," he tells the Committee.
"I sent out a request by mail [on] March 14, 2021, to the petition-secretariat. Guess what: NO ANSWER."
Sometime after that, he went on, he logged onto the PETI website to discover that in fact, his petition had been posted and had been "open for support" as of April 9, 2021.
"If you claim [the] objective of the petitions process is to ensure [that EU] citizens are able to communicate with Parliament, this process is very peculiar," he concluded, adding that it seemed designed instead to actively discourage the filing and signing of petitions.
Second 'accidental' to file a PETI petition
In filing his PETI petition, Ariës became the second such accidental/unintentional American to take his struggles with what he regards as the unfair imposition on him of American citizenship by the U.S. to the Petitions Committee. The first was a U.S.-born Frenchman known officially only as "Mr J.R. (French)", who filed his petition in 2016.
As reported, Mr. J.R. finally managed to get PETI to hold a hearing on the "accidentals" issue in November of 2019, after lengthy and repeated efforts to, as he put it in his testimony during that hearing, "trying to get official positions from the European Executive on these issues." All these efforts, he added, had been ignored until that hearing.
Since that hearing a year and four months ago, other hearings have also taken place across Europe on the subject of accidental Americans, including several in the Netherlands, as well as a follow-up PETI hearing almost exactly a year after the first one, last November.
This second hearing – which took place remotely, owing to the pandemic situation – featured Mr. J.R. and various officials who had also spoken at the original hearing criticising what they said was the European Commission's continued failure to take serious action aimed at addressing the banking and tax problems that thousands of other American/EU dual nationals were struggling with.
Born out of FATCA
While most accidental Americans are considered by the U.S. to be U.S. citizens because they were born in the States, even if they left the next day and never returned, the concept of "accidental Americans" was actually "born" on March 18, 2010, when then-President Obama signed into law the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA).
The law was barely noticed inside a domstic jobs bill, but it soon caught the attention of non-U.S. banks and financial institutions because it was designed to crack down on the use of overseas bank accounts by American taxpayers by obliging such non-U.S. banks and institutions to report the bank account details, including assets, of all of their "U.S. citizen or Green Card-holding" clients.
Because the penalties for failing to comply were and are significant, many non-U.S. banks and financial institutions responded to the new law by declining to continue accepting Americans as clients, and asking those it did have to leave.
Others started contacting those American account-holders they did have, and informing them that it required such information from them as their U.S. Social Security numbers – which for many accidental Americans was the moment how, and when, they first heard that anyone regarded them as having U.S. citizenship status.
The pressure on accidental Americans in particular began to mount towards the end of 2019, when non-U.S. banks and financial institutions were, under the FATCA regulations their governments had agreed to, were, as of Jan. 1, 2020, obliged to begin providing U.S. officials with the TINs of all their U.S. clients, or else face possible financial sanctions.
By April, 2020, EU Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni, under pressure from some EU lawmakers who were responding to their accidental American constituents to address the bank account issue, issued a statement in which he said that the European Commission had found "no evidence" that the way Europe's banks were complying with FATCA was infringing on the rights of dual EU/American citizens to have and maintain a basic bank account.
But European concerns about FATCA have continued to emerge since then, including last October, where a European Court of Justice ruling was seen by some to be evidence of a growing case for EU officials to revisit the language of the agreements that set out how the American law is enforced in Europe.
To view Ronald Ariës petition on the European Parliament's website, click here.
To read about the European Parliament's Petitions Committee hearing in 2019, which addressed "FATCA and its extraterritorial impact on EU citizens," and a transcript of that other accidental American petitioner's testimony in full, click here.
- The Schroders podcast, featuring Heale and Saxer: 2010's 'Fear and Total Confusion Act,' and other U.S. expat challenges
- BBC World Service takes a 4th of July look at U.S. 'taxation' and 'representation' of its expats
- Switzerland's tax authority again issues reminder on disclosure of U.S.-client account details
- Setback for FATCA reciprocity advocates in France, as Assembly fails to approve amendment
- Looming confrontation seen between U.S. and its FATCA signatories, as 'FATCA II' takes shape in Washington