The bank deal signed between Switzerland and the United States aimed at ending the long-running dispute over US tax dodgers with money in Swiss bank accounts has had a very lukewarm reception in the Swiss press.
The German-language TagesAnzeiger says Switzerland had had to make unpalatable compromises – expressed more vividly in German as “swallowing toads”, while the Neue Zürcher Zeitung heads its editorial on the issue “It’s not yet over”.
The French-language paper Le Temps agrees. “It’s not the end of the troubles with the US tax authorities, but the start of an organised surrender,” it writes in its editorial. It points out that the agreement is not a political deal, but simply a way to make the legal process easier.
“At best, Switzerland has avoided the worst, a flood of court cases that would have destabilised the entire Swiss financial system. This is an achievement – a fragile one, to be sure, but undeniable,” it says.
The Neue Zürcher Zeitung takes a similar line. It says the deal contains a lot of “ugly things”, which it goes on to list. These include the administrative costs to the banks, the “wickedly and arbitrarily” high way any fines will be calculated, and the fact that uninvolved banks will have to prove their innocence by paying outside accountants huge fees to give them a clean bill of health.
But it reaches an unwilling conclusion. “Despite the many doubts, the current deal is certainly less bad that the possible alternatives would have been,” it admits. “As far as bank client information is concerned, the legal basis remains intact. And the banks can hope to put the past behind them more quickly.”
However, the TagesAnzeiger calls into question the claim by Swiss Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf and chief negotiator Michael Ambühl that the existing legal framework has been respected and no laws have been altered retrospectively.
“Perhaps that is true in terms of legal theory – but in practice it certainly isn’t,” the paper comments. It points out, for example, that it was not illegal in 2008 for a bank to take money from a US client without asking if tax had been paid on it, and that still in 2009 clients could presume that bank secrecy applied.
It also points to the fact that banks will have to prove their innocence. “It is a mystery how the reversal of the onus of proof can be reconciled with existing Swiss law,” it says. “And that US tax law should apply to the banks involved and their employees is also not compatible with the existing law.”
But the paper concludes that it is better to “swallow the toads” and to hope that any settlement of the issued of untaxed money held by European citizens in Swiss accounts will be better.
The German-language tabloid Blick is more upbeat in its assessment of the deal. It heads its editorial: “A great chance for the banks”. Even so, it is not totally enthusiastic. It is “not a nice solution, but at least it’s a solution”, it says.
“And that is the most important thing: after years of dispute, the two countries want to move on to the business of the day.”
It says the deal can send a signal to the world that “the banks want to leave the age of untaxed assets behind.”
“If the banks continue along the same path, the branch has a successful future ahead of it. Switzerland will once again be able to be proud of its banks,” the paper asserts.