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Switzerland, Germany vow to end tax dispute

Published on 02/04/2009

BERLIN - Germany and Switzerland vowed Wednesday to end their dispute over tax havens just before the Group of 20 summit which will create a blacklist of countries allowing substandard tax practices.

"We want to put the irritations of the past behind us," said Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin after a meeting with his Swiss counterpart, Micheline Calmy-Rey.

"We remain neighbours and partners," Calmy-Rey said, adding she informed Steinmeier of Switzerland’s decision to ease its bank secrecy laws to avoid the G20 blacklist.

"We are serious. When we say we are going to do something, we do it … we are not a tax haven," she added.

Switzerland and Luxembourg among several other countries recently said they will change their banking laws and develop international cooperation on tax issues to avoid being placed on the G20 blacklist.

Earlier Wednesday, the United States and Gibraltar said they signed a tax information exchange accord, the first of its kind for the tiny British territory which emerged as a major offshore finance centre at Spain’s southern tip.

The tax haven issue was becoming a diplomatic conflict between Germany and Switzerland following Germany’s harsh criticism of Switzerland’s banking secrecy laws.

Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck particularly irritated the Swiss when he used a Wild West analogy likening them to "Indians."

One Swiss MP responded that Steinbrueck "reminds me of the old generation of Germans, who 60 years ago went through the streets with leather coats, boots and armbands," a Nazi analogy that caused outrage in Germany.

"After several weeks of arguing, we must now get back to normal neighbourly relations," Steinmeier said on Wednesday.