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Swiss bankers speak out against concessions to EU

Switzerland's private bankers have dropped their traditional reserve to defend the country's role as a financial centre.

At a news conference in Bern, the Swiss Private Bankers Association warned that it would be a "catastrophe", if any hasty concessions were made to the European Union in its fight against tax evasion.

Tax evasion is not a crime in Switzerland, as it is in many other countries.

Jacques Rossier from the bankers Darier Hentsch & Cie in Geneva said that any rushed and unilateral concessions would lead to massive job losses in Switzerland.

"We have to prepare ourselves for tough and long negotiations with the EU and it is of the utmost importance that we follow a clear and consistent line," he said.

The 15 members in the Association say it is out of the question for Switzerland to introduce a general and automatic exchange of information, as is foreseen in the EU's agreement on taxation of income from savings accounts worked out in Feira and Brussels.

"Such a procedure is not compatible with our understanding of the relationship between the citizen and the tax authorities, and between the citizen and the state," Rossier said.

"We believe that it would be unwise for Switzerland, almost as an act of goodwill, to give up banking customer secrecy, while all other financial centres, in particular the United States and Britain, continue their selfish tax policies unhindered," he added.

The Association also made the point that both the finance minister, Kaspar Villiger and the economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, had publicly stated that banking customer secrecy was not up for negotiation.

Defending banking secrecy, Rossier also said Switzerland had some of the toughest regulations worldwide in the fight against organised crime.

The Swiss government has repeatedly said it is willing to discuss the issue of taxation on savings account interest with the EU. It prefers the introduction of a withholding tax on the interest of accounts held in Switzerland by EU citizens.

A withholding tax of 35 per cent on investment income is a key element of the Swiss tax system. It helps ensure that Swiss taxpayers act honestly and it is refunded to the taxpayer on the basis of the declaration of the income.

by Robert Brookes


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