Switzerland has hit back at European Union accusations that it is threatening a continent-wide deal on taxation.
The Swiss foreign ministry's integration office was responding to comments by the European Commission, which on Tuesday accused Switzerland of refusing to start negotiations on a taxation agreement.
"It's not true that we are unwilling to talk," said Jose Bessard, spokesman for the integration office. We just want negotiations on [other issues too]. The EU has known that since January."
The EU is seeking to tax income on its residents' savings abroad and its internal market commissioner, Frits Bolkestein, says Brussels needs to cut a deal with Switzerland if it to reach similar agreements with the United States, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Andorra and San Marino.
Bern holds "key to success"
"As long as Switzerland is unwilling [to negotiate on tax] the other countries remain unwilling too," he said. "The key to success is in Bern."
The Swiss insist that taxation talks must be part of wider negotiations covering other issues such as cooperation on immigration and asylum. In all there are ten dossiers on the table aimed at forging closer ties between Switzerland and the EU.
"If the EU gets all the mandates we are ready and willing to start the next day," said Bessard. "We are not trying to find an excuse, we are not trying to find an escape.... Our goal is to have negotiations and to have successful negotiations."
The EU wants access to information about its citizens' savings in Swiss banks so it can tax them accordingly. But this goes against Swiss banking secrecy, which Bern has long declared "not negotiable".
The Swiss fear is that any weakening of "bank customer confidentiality" could lead to an exodus of foreign money, potentially damaging the economy. Switzerland holds about one third of the world's total offshore wealth.
As a compromise, the Swiss have offered to levy a withholding tax on the interest on EU residents' savings as a way of avoiding having to disclose information about the account holders themselves.
swissinfo with agencies