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Pressure to remain on Swiss over banking secrecy

Newspapers warn that the issue of banking secrecy will not go away swissinfo.ch

Tuesday's decision by European governments to agree a compromise on the taxation of savings has been greeted as a breakthrough by the Swiss and international media.

This content was published on January 22, 2003 - 10:13

But it is generally accepted that the deal falls short of what the European Union set out to achieve and that the issue is far from dead.

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung described the deal as a success but also attacked the EU for dithering for too long.

It said Brussels had wasted years trying to force EU members, and third countries such as Switzerland, to scrap banking secrecy and impose a system of automatic exchange of information about account holders.

"This breakthrough could have been achieved years ago," the paper said. "The deal is very similar to the proposal submitted by the Commission in 1997 under which every member state is free to chose whether to introduce a withholding tax or exchange information."

However, the paper said it did not expect the EU to sound the retreat over its fight against banking secrecy.

"The nature of the compromise suggests that the big EU countries led by Britain will not ease their pressure and will continue to fight against banking secrecy.

"They will do this via the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and will call on the US for help," the paper commented.

Swiss efforts

The Tages-Anzeiger said the fact that a compromise had been reached was due to the efforts of Switzerland's finance minister, Kaspar Villiger.

"Austria, Belgium and Luxembourg owe the deal to Kaspar Villiger and his helpers, who suggested the introduction of a withholding tax for Switzerland," it said.

The paper agreed that the current solution only gives Switzerland and the other three countries a short breathing space.

"Even if bankers in Luxembourg, Vienna as well as in Geneva and Zurich are happy about their partial victory, the fight against banking secrecy is not over yet."

Further surprises

The Geneva-based Le Temps also stressed that the issue was far from buried. It described the compromise as a "political agreement" which was likely to serve up further surprises.

"Negotiations between Brussels and Bern are not over, and the agreement reached on Tuesday is no more than a necessary step towards reaching a conclusion," it warned.

The Regione Ticino also said it was too early to talk of "victory" because it remained unclear what action the OECD would take on the same front.

"The accord settles at least one thing: Switzerland can no longer afford to live in blissful isolation. But for the time being there is certain room for manoeuvre."

Banking secrecy

The International Herald Tribune saw the landmark agreement as a clear victory for the Swiss, saying the country had emerged from the "thorny debate" with its banking secrecy intact - for the time being.

"In the end, Switzerland's stubbornness beat out Brussels' resolve - at least for now," said the paper.

However, the newspaper suggested that any respite over the issue of banking secrecy would be short-lived.

It said Switzerland was likely to come under renewed pressure to ease banking secrecy and make tax evasion a criminal offence at an OECD meeting in Paris next week.

Deadlock

Britain's Financial Times said the agreement had ended 13 years of stalemate and would make tax evasion more difficult.

"However, the compromise between European Union finance ministers falls short of a single EU regime because it enables three countries - Luxembourg, Austria and Belgium - to retain the secrecy of their banking systems for at least another six years."

But the paper quoted Frits Bolkestein, the EU's commissioner for taxation, as saying that the EU had achieved its goal.

"The Doubting Thomases of this world who said we would never come to this have not been proven right."

The Wall Street Journal noted that EU citizens would now find it harder to "dodge taxes", a move in line with the OECD's desire to crack down on tax evasion in the developed world.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont

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