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Switzerland and EU head for confrontation over banking secrecy

The European Union is stepping up its pressure on Switzerland over tax evasion. The EU has said progress on further bilateral accords with the Swiss will now depend on concrete results on the tax issue.

A senior Swiss official told German-language Swiss radio that the EU has made it clear it will only continue discussions on further trade accords if its demands are met.

The EU wants to see Switzerland make concessions on sharing information on non-residents' savings income - an issue which goes to the heart of Swiss banking secrecy - and to do more to combat cross-border crime, particularly cigarette smuggling.

Switzerland is trying to negotiate a second round of bilateral accords with the EU on such issues as asylum, security and education, following the conclusion of a first round of seven bilateral agreements.

The seven accords were ratified by the Swiss people in May, but full approval by the EU's 15 member state parliaments is not expected until mid-2001.

On Monday, the EU agreed to compel member states to reveal details of assets belonging to residents from other EU countries so they can be taxed in their country of origin.

The deal increases pressure on Switzerland to lift banking secrecy because it is conditional on other financial centres applying the same rules.

Until now Switzerland has been able to avoid confronting the issue head-on because of the refusal of EU member states, Luxembourg and Austria, to go along with any loosening of banking secrecy.

The newly appointed chief executive of the Swiss Bankers Association, Urs Roth, repeated the government's position on Monday, saying banking secrecy was non-negotiable.

He told French-language Swiss radio that, as Switzerland was not a member of the EU, separate agreements would have to be worked out with the EU. He made it clear Switzerland would not agree to any such accord if it was not in its interests.

swissinfo with agencies


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