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The week in Switzerland

Banking in Switzerland dominated this week's headlines


Two of Switzerland's holy cows, banking secrecy and the army, hit the headlines this week, as parliament's summer session drew to a close.

Switzerland's banking secrecy came under the spotlight once again, after the European Union agreed to exchange information on non-residents' savings accounts to prevent tax evasion. The EU deal is conditional on persuading third countries, including Switzerland, to adopt similar measures.

The finance ministry in Berne indicated it might amend tax on investment income to bring it closer to EU rules. But it again ruled out abolishing banking secrecy to help catch foreign tax dodgers. Commentators see the latest moves as a clear indication that Switzerland will come under further pressure, particularly if it's planning to forge closer ties with Brussels.

Another long-running story moved on a step this week: the Federal Court gave the green light for the authorities to grant legal assistance to Russia in a suspected fraud case at the Russian airline, Aeroflot.

Three Swiss financial institutions have tried for several months to hold up the handing over of documents relating to the case. Aeroflot officials are suspected of siphoning off 600 million dollars through these companies.

In Berne, parliament wrapped up its regular three-week summer session. It came out against the so-called "Yes to Europe" initiative, which called for Switzerland to immediately open talks on full EU membership.

Parliamentarians were less decisive about other issues. They approved in principle a plan to arm Swiss troops taking part in international peacekeeping missions, but delayed a final decision.

Both houses came out in favour of a second road tunnel on the main transalpine route through the Gotthard, but this was a purely symbolic move as it has no practical consequences.

A vote on easing the abortion laws was also delayed.

It was an exciting week for art buffs in Switzerland. Thousands gathered in Basel for the world's leading arts fair to get a good look at contemporary, as well as cutting edge work by up-and-coming artists.

Lucerne, for its part, opened a new Museum of Art in the city's renowned Culture and Convention Centre designed by top French architect, Jean Nouvel.

Even the post office turned its talents to art, issuing a limited-edition embroidery stamp - the only one of its kind - guaranteed to tempt philatelists the world over.

In sport, Oscar Camenzind became the first Swiss rider in six years to win the Tour de Suisse. He successfully kept his 14-second advantage in the tenth and final stage after taking the lead in the mountains earlier in the week.

by Urs Geiser

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