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Initiative withdrawn Domestic banking secrecy will not go to a nationwide vote

Bank vault with table and two chairs in the middle

Swiss banking secrecy was introduced in the 1930s, but Switzerland had to ease the rules in 2009 following international pressure

(Keystone/Gaetan Bally)

A proposal to enshrine banking secrecy for Swiss residents in the country’s constitution has been formally withdrawn as the government dropped plans for a legal crackdown on tax offenders. 

The move, which was widely expected, was announced at a news conference on Tuesday, following a decision by parliament late last year. 

“We have achieved our goal of keeping the private sphere of the citizens when it comes to financial matters,” said Thomas Matter, a parliamentarian and main promoter of the initiative. “The state trusts in its citizens who are filling out their tax forms for themselves.”

In December, parliament approved a motion, calling on the government to renounce plans aimed at tightening the criminal code for tax offenders in Switzerland. 

+ Banking secrecy: How parliament threw out the initiative 

Sufficient signatures for the initiative were handed in to the Federal Chancellery in September 2014 by a group of representatives from three right-leaning political parties, led by the People’s Party, paving the way for a nationwide vote in principle.

Impact even when withdrawn

It is not unusual for initiative committees to withdraw their proposals.

Since 1891, when the idea of the initiative as a way of amending the constitution was introduced, over 400 such initiatives have been launched, according to figures by the Federal Chancelleryexternal link

Political scientist Lukas Leuzinger says a large number of these never reached the people for a vote, because the required number of signatures were not gathered, or the initiative was withdrawn before voting day. Of the 209 initiatives that voters actually voted on, upwards of 90% failed to pass. 

+ Every three months, a revolution 

However, Leuzinger says even unsuccessful initiatives can have a noticeable impact on politics as they can prompt parliament or the government to take action. 

The withdrawal of the banking secrecy initiative, which was launched nearly five years ago, is just the latest example. The rightwing Lega dei Ticinesi group did not make it that far. Its initiative with a similar aim failed to collect enough signatures in 2010. 

The issue of Swiss banking secrecy at an international level is a separate issue. Switzerland agreed to abolish banking secrecy for foreign clients of Swiss banks in 2009 following international pressure from the United States and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. 

As of the beginning of 2018, Switzerland generally applies the terms of an international agreement on the automatic exchange of tax information

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