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Fraud poses obstacle for Schengen deal

The accords are aimed at combatting illegal immigration and strengthening security within the EU Keystone Archive

Switzerland says it is close to signing a deal with the European Union on the Schengen and Dublin accords on crime and asylum.

But both parties have still to agree on a common policy for tackling tax fraud, which the Swiss fear could threaten banking secrecy.

The negotiations, which began in July 2002, are aimed at giving Switzerland access to the Schengen and Dublin agreements.

The two accords are designed to reinforce security within the Union and its partners, and help fight illegal immigration.

Using earlier deals between Norway and Iceland with the EU as models, Switzerland has managed to thrash out an agreement that is compatible with its own national laws.

However, both sides are still at odds over procedures on fighting tax fraud. The Swiss fear that this could be extended to tax evasion, which would oblige Switzerland to lift banking secrecy.

“We have differing interpretations on the outcome of this article,” Monique Jametti Greiner, head of the Swiss negotiating team, told swissinfo.

“We need this to be clarified before we can put a final point to our negotiations.

“We’ve got to the point where we can no longer expect a result at our level,” she added. “This is a question that has be resolved at a political level.”

Agreement needed

Jametti Greiner believes an amicable solution can be found in a relatively short time.

“If the will is there on the EU side and the Swiss side, then a solution is feasible,” she said.

The Swiss government has already begun addressing the issue. The Swiss president, Pascal Couchepin, proposed last month to hold a meeting to settle all open questions related to Schengen and fraud.

However, the EU may not be willing to change tack. In the past, the European Commission has stated that Switzerland must align itself with Brussels and not vice versa.

No exceptions

Most EU member states are against giving the Swiss any special exemption from the Schengen guidelines.

Only Germany has indicated that it would be prepared to bend the rules to accommodate Switzerland.

Any new talks will now probably take place under the six-month Italian EU presidency.

Italy and Switzerland have had numerous clashes over tax in recent years. But Jametti Greiner says this should not taint any negotiations with the EU.

“Italy has to comply with the demands of the member states,” she told swissinfo. “I’m sure the Italians will do a good job leading the EU.”

swissinfo, Scott Capper

Swiss negotiators say they have virtually concluded talks on joining the EU’s Schengen and Dublin accords.

Only one stumbling block remains: both sides have failed to reach an agreement on a common policy for tackling fraud.

The Swiss say that if they accept the EU’s definition, it would spell the end of banking secrecy.

Any further negotiations on the issue are expected to take place at a political level.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR