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Swiss dig in heels over banking secrecy

Hans Eichel (left) and Hans-Rudolf Merz met in Berlin on Friday Keystone

Finance Minister Hans-Rudolf Merz has told Germany that banking secrecy is not up for negotiation in a new set of bilateral accords with the European Union.

His German counterpart, Hans Eichel, said the EU simply wanted secrecy regulations eased to assist the fight against money laundering and tax fraud.

Merz, who held talks with Eichel in Berlin on Friday, insisted that banking secrecy was strictly regulated and was non-negotiable.

The issue has proved a major stumbling block to negotiations between Bern and Brussels on a second set of nine bilateral treaties.

Bern is reluctant to sign any of the accords until it has secured an opt-out on items which it believes could jeopardise banking secrecy.

Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU, is also insisting that all nine accords be treated as a single package, contrary to Brussels’ wishes.


Merz and Eichel also discussed plans by the EU to levy a tax on Swiss re-exports from June 1.

When the plans were announced, Switzerland complained that the move would have a long-term impact on its trade ties with the EU.

The decision prompted fears that Brussels was penalising the Swiss for not moving fast enough on the bilateral accords.

Relations between Germany and Switzerland, traditionally close allies, have come under strain amid the ongoing differences over the EU accords.

In early March, Germany tightened controls at the border with Switzerland, causing long tailbacks in northern Switzerland.

Berlin insisted it was simply adhering to the Schengen accord on cross-border crime, which envisages tighter checks at borders with non-EU countries.

Flight restrictions

In addition, there is an ongoing dispute between the two countries over Germany’s decision to impose flight restrictions on planes approaching Zurich airport over southern Germany.

Swiss banks are also feeling the heat following a reinterpretation of German laws which makes it difficult for them to access Germany’s financial markets.

In response to growing tensions, Swiss cabinet ministers have organised meetings with their German counterparts.

The Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, met her German counterpart, Joschka Fischer, in Bern last month.

Later this month the economics minister, Joseph Deiss, is due to go to Berlin to hold talks with the German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder.

swissinfo with agencies

Bern is reluctant to sign any of the accords until it is sure the dossier on fraud will not jeopardise its banking secrecy traditions.

The Swiss government also insists all nine accords be treated as a single package, a demand Brussels does not accept.

Relations between Germany and Switzerland have recently been put under strain over issues such as tighter controls at the German border with Switzerland and flight restrictions.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR