Influential business lobby group, economiesuisse, has called on the government to face down continuing pressure from foreign governments.
Switzerland has been under constant attack during the last year over the role that banking secrecy plays with tax evasion. The Swiss have given enough ground and must take the offensive, the Swiss Business Federation said on Tuesday.
The tough stance of the business community mirrors a growing impatience with the country’s leaders displayed by the media and the public.
Last year, the Swiss government agreed to renegotiate a host of tax treaties with other nations while brokering a deal with the United States to hand over confidential data of UBS bank clients.
A long-standing feud with the European Union over corporate tax rates remains unresolved while Switzerland stands to be frozen out of the EU alternative investments market if new protectionist regulations get the go-ahead.
Economiesuisse President Gerold Bührer told swissinfo.ch that it is time to draw a line in the sand. “We should be more ready to take the offensive when communicating Switzerland’s positive contribution, particularly with regard to the EU,” he said. “We have tackled issues too defensively.”
Bührer believes that neighbouring countries are trying to transfer their own problems onto Switzerland following the financial crisis and subsequent global recession.
“If you look at the enormous debts of other countries, I can understand why their finance ministers are still looking in a very sceptical, even hostile way, towards Switzerland,” he said. “We are handling our public finance issues relatively well, while other countries are doing the opposite, and this has created an inherent cycle of problems.”
But the lobby group praised the most recent government strategy to combat pressure on the Swiss financial centre. Embattled Finance Minister Hans-Rudolf Merz stated that Switzerland would not bow to foreign demands for an automatic exchange of tax data.
Merz’s recent address was criticised in some quarters for failing to find a definite solution to the impasse that has recently escalated with France and Germany obtaining stolen data from Swiss banks.
But Bührer believes the arguments can only be resolved by sticking to a strong central strategy over a period of time rather than waving an instant magic wand. “We can’t solve these issues from one day to the next by simply coming up with ideas,” he said.
However, economiesuisse also warned the banks to accept more responsibility for their role in the problem, not just by rejecting tax-evasion assets but by showing more humility to public outrage over huge bonus payments.
The issue is currently being tackled by parliament and will end up in the hands of the public in the shape of a nationwide vote. One prominent businessman has submitted a popular initiative to place remuneration policy in the hands of shareholders rather than company directors.
Economiesusise supports a parliamentary counter-proposal that would water down some elements of the original initiative.
Speaking at the business federation’s annual strategy briefing in Zurich, both Bührer and Johann Schneider-Ammann – president of the machinery and electrical engineering group Swissmem – said Swiss companies had shown resilience to the recession.
Exporters had suffered serious setbacks in sales and orders last year, but had not lost ground to international competitors, Schneider-Ammann reported.
But economiesuisse is worried that governments could endanger a recovery with protectionist trade barriers.
“I fear that the general mood in western Europe and in Switzerland is to close markets,” he said. “We want to stick to a very competitive and open-market policy, which in the current climate of mistrust could be very difficult to achieve.”
Matthew Allen in Zurich, swissinfo.ch
The Swiss Business Federation was created through the merger in 2000 of the Swiss Federation of Trade and Industry and the Society for the Promotion of the Swiss Economy.
Its members include 100 trade and industry associations, 20 cantonal chambers of commerce and individual companies in the financial, manufacturing, advertising, media, construction, engineering, chemicals, pharmaceutical, technology, media and tourism sectors.
It also represents the interests of many small and medium-size enterprises and works together with the Swiss Employers Association.
The umbrella organisation also has the support of around 30,000 companies, employing 1.5 million people in Switzerland.
It plays an important role in the Swiss economy by representing the views of its members to the government and to the public.