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US tax bill rejection fails to ignite press

The House of Representatives voted to not discuss the controversial tax bill Keystone

After spending the past few weeks commenting every twist and turn of a controversial draft law allowing Swiss banks to help the United States to crack down on suspected tax cheats, the media were at a loss for words after it was rejected by parliament.

This content was published on June 20, 2013 - 09:39
Scott Capper, swissinfo.ch

Comments were few and far between on Thursday in the Swiss press, reflecting to a large extent the uncertainty surrounding the bill’s rejection by the House of Representatives, definitively killing it despite the Senate’s approval.

For Zurich’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), the decision means first and foremost that the banks which are wrangling with the US justice system will be left without a legal crutch to prop them up. That said, it pointed out that those banks were responsible for playing with fire in the US financial market.

For Fribourg’s La Liberté newspaper, the decision should have seemed obvious from the start: leave the banks to sort out their problems by themselves.

But for Zurich’s TagesAnzeiger, it’s not so simple: it commented that the House of Representative’s vote now leaves the survival of many Swiss banks in the hands of the US tax authorities, reminding its readers that just last year the Wegelin Bank was the first establishment to pay the price for its illicit activities.

Wegelin, Switzerland's oldest bank, was forced to wind up its activities after coming under attack from the US tax authorities. 

“For a week’s worth of rhetoric, the two parties that back the banks, the Radicals and the Swiss People’s Party, have taken an immeasurable risk,” it added.

The Blick tabloid commented that “a lot of politicians are sweating blood now and wondering if their ‘no’ vote won’t lead to more misery.”

However, the NZZ pointed out that no one knows if accepting the bill would have meant an end to the tax problems that have dogged relations between Switzerland and the US in recent years.

Honour

A number of papers said parliament seemed intent on defending the country’s honour. For the TagesAnzeiger, the House of Representatives was right to say the draft bill was dictated by outside pressure, as well as being an attack on Swiss pride, freedom and sovereignty.

For La Liberté, it was a vote against being forced into a corner by the US superpower and a vote against once again paying the bill for the activities of unscrupulous bankers.

The NZZ editorialist pointed out that the time pressure imposed by Washington and accepted by the cabinet did not help. “The threshold where it was considered that the legislation could no longer be discussed seriously was reached,” it added.

For the TagesAnzeiger, it would have been better if cooler heads had prevailed and there had been less talk of honour.

“Capitulating is an art form,” it wrote. “The House of Representatives does not have the skill, and it will cost the country dear.”

 

La Liberté wrote that for all the grandstanding, the parliamentarians felt uncomfortable defending their honour, immediately accepting a declaration claiming that there was no ill-will towards the US.

“It’s like excusing oneself right after slapping a friend – except it is unlikely the American giant noticed the snub the garden gnome thought it inflicted,” it added.

Parliament also washed its hands of the vote’s consequences by asking the government to help the banks that might face legal troubles in the near future, the editorialist comented, accusing the representatives of cowardice.

Finance minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf has already declared that the authorities will do everything they can to soften the blow of the bill’s rejection. However, the Swiss data protection commissioner has already warned that he will block any transmission of bank data that is not legal.

For the NZZ, what is required now is for past errors in the US to be liquidated. “But the main players of the Swiss financial sector must learn again to responsible for their own problems. It is no longer acceptable to seek parliament’s help for their mistakes,” it added.

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