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Calmy-Rey accuses EU of lacking respect

Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey says the EU should show Switzerland more respect Keystone

Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey has accused the European Union of "poor style" and of making unacceptable demands in an ongoing dispute over corporate tax.

This content was published on March 2, 2007 - 13:13

She repeated demands that Brussels show Switzerland more respect during a speech on Friday at the opening of the annual Muba trade fair in Basel. But she warned against writing off bilateralism because of the spat.

Calmy-Rey, who is also the Swiss foreign minister, admitted the "EU-instigated" disagreement regarding tax practices in some Swiss cantons was certainly a hot topic but it was only one aspect of the multifaceted relationship between Switzerland and the EU.

But she didn't mince her words when it came to the form and content of the EU's behaviour.

"The unilateral declaration of a contract violation – added to the hint of possible sanctions – is poor style," Calmy-Rey said.

The EU believes the low corporate taxes offered by cantons such as Obwalden and Zug violate a 1972 free trade agreement, calling it a disguised state subsidy.

The Swiss authorities have defended themselves, calling the decision unfounded. The finance ministry has said no contractual regulations exist between Switzerland and the European Union on the harmonisation of company taxation.

It argues that neither the EU rules on competition, including those on state aid, nor the EU member states' code of conduct on company taxation are applicable to Switzerland.

Calmy-Rey recalled on Friday the decision by Swiss voters in November to contribute SFr1 billion ($817 million) towards the ten new European Union member countries, pointing out that Switzerland was the only European country to have welcomed the new members in such a way.

No lecture

The Swiss president also noted the savings tax treaty with Brussels under which a tax is levied on interest earned by EU residents with Swiss bank accounts, and the Swiss contribution to the EU's peace efforts in southeast Europe.

"Of course I don't want to suggest that federal and multicultural Switzerland should lecture Europe, but I also do not believe that Switzerland needs to be lectured," she said.

Authoritarian force was as alien to Switzerland as it was incomprehensible, she said, adding that it was a poor basis for constructive dialogue.

"Switzerland demands that it be treated by the EU with the respect that it is entitled to as a reliable partner. The Commission's approach has already trodden on a lot of toes."

This is not the first time Calmy-Rey has complained about a lack of respect. At the beginning of January she reacted in the same way after a spokesman for socialist French presidential candidate Ségolène Royal likened the Swiss cantonal tax system to "banditry".

Calmy-Rey explained she was in favour of an "aggressive, self-confident and solution-oriented" policy for Europe.

"World class"

Turning her attention away from the EU, Calmy-Rey praised Mexico, the guest nation at this year's Muba, as one of Switzerland's most important trade partners in Latin America.

She also described Basel as "world class" and a door to the world which showed the rest of Switzerland how the greatest challenges could be overcome with "openness, tolerance, humanity and a pinch of humility".

She cited Basel-born tennis genius Roger Federer, "who despite breathtaking success remains modest", as one of the best ambassadors for Switzerland.

And she spotlighted the achievements of award-winning Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron, who are based in the city, and the Basel pharmaceutical industry, "one of the most competitive in the world".

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The Muba is one of Switzerland's leading annual trade fairs. Around 1,100 exhibitors present their wares to the public.

The ten-day fair showcases products and services arranged according to the themes of lifestyle, health, sport, garden, multimedia and fashion.

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