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Switzerland eyes compromise with EU in tax row: finance minister
Swiss Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf signaled the country may be ready to make concessions to the European Union to end a long-standing conflict over EU citizens stashing untaxed money in Swiss bank accounts.
Pressure on Switzerland to abandon bank secrecy, a tradition already battered by a crackdown on tax evasion by U.S. and European authorities, has increased since Luxembourg agreed to reveal information on depositors earlier this month.
"We are not part of the European Union and decide independently. But obviously, we also have to find a solution with the EU," Widmer-Schlumpf told Swiss newspaper Finanz und Wirtschaft in an interview published on Saturday.
Within the EU, Austria is now the last country determined to stick to its bank secrecy laws. Its finance minister said on Friday she saw no need for an automatic exchange of information on account holders.
Switzerland has always refused an automatic exchange of information, but Widmer-Schlumpf said she was not surprised Luxembourg had to change its policy.
"It is understandable Luxembourg wants to position itself in the best possible way in this difficult situation," she said, adding the development didn't surprise her.
"We're taking this into account regarding our own policy. As soon as we have the report from the expert group Brunetti, we'll communicate our thoughts," she said, adding first results of the expert group's work should be available in summer 2013.
Asked about the future of withholding tax agreements to settle tax claims, she said the conditions to strike such deals with new partners had not improved in recent weeks, although implementation of deals with Great Britain and Austria was going smoothly and negotiations with Greece were ongoing.
A withholding tax agreement with Germany failed last year after the left-wing opposition blocked the deal in parliament, a severe setback in Switzerland's struggle to sweep offshore accounts clean of tax dodgers without revealing account holders identity.
[Source: Reuters, Zurich, 13Apr13]
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