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Villiger rejects "unacceptable" EU criticism

Kaspar Villiger said Switzerland's banking secrecy laws were under attack

(Keystone Archive)

The Swiss finance minister, Kaspar Villiger, has angrily dismissed European Union criticism of Switzerland's banking secrecy laws.

Speaking out on the issue for the second time in a week, Villiger said the tone of recent comments from EU leaders on the twin issues of banking secrecy and savings taxation was "unacceptable".

Last week, the German finance minister, Hans Eichel, warned that Switzerland risked becoming isolated over its reluctance to cooperate with the EU on the sensitive issue of taxation of EU citizens' savings in Swiss banks.

Villiger told a general meeting of the Swiss Employers' Association that Switzerland had made a reasonable offer to resolve the matter by imposing a withholding tax on EU citizens' savings and sending the money to Brussels.

"For this reason I vigorously reject the harsh criticism of some of my EU colleagues," said Villiger, who is also the 2002 Swiss president.

"This kind of tone is not acceptable among friends," he added.

Coordinated campaign

Villiger said that a coordinated international campaign against Swiss banking secrecy laws was underway.

He said that the integrity of the Swiss financial centre was being called into question by part of this campaign and that Switzerland's economic advantages were being undermined by its competitors.

The finance minister also said Switzerland's banking secrecy laws were no obstacle to fighting terrorism and he rejected what he called attempts by EU officials to link the issue of savings taxation with the fight against terrorism.

"I have to ask myself whether our willingness to cooperate has paid off at all," Villiger said.

But he stressed that the government would do all it could to ensure an amicable agreement in the next round of negotiations with the EU on a series of bilateral treaties.

Reform fatigue

Turning to the Swiss economy, Villiger expressed concern that fatigue might be setting in in the reform process.

"It is clear that there is less willingness to liberalise and restructure," Villiger said, and gave as an example the outcome of cantonal votes, where opposition to privatisation was clear.

"It is as if after a phase of reform and adaptation the pendulum has swung back," Villiger said.


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