German finmin: no chance Swiss tax deal can be renegotiated

BERLIN Sat May 4, 2013 8:32am EDT

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BERLIN May 4 (Reuters) - Germany's finance minister sees no chance of renegotiating a failed bilateral deal with Switzerland that would have sought to sweep Swiss accounts clean of German tax dodgers, even after the country's foreign minister renewed his calls for a second try.

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble was quoted as saying on Saturday Switzerland would not be able to retroactively change laws to lift tax secrecy, one of the reasons for Germany's opposition to bloc the deal last year.

"As a state under the rule of law, Switzerland cannot retroactively change laws or get rid of tax secrecy. That's the question due to which red-green (opposition) let the agreement fail in the Bundesrat and I don't see the position of the opposition changing," Schaeuble said, according to Bild am Sonntag.

The German-Swiss deal, agreed last year but blocked by the opposition in Germany's upper house, has become a hot topic of debate again in Berlin with five months to federal elections after comments by both countries' foreign ministers.

Both signalled on Wednesday they would be ready to revive bilateral negotiations, a plea Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle renewed in an interview with Neue Zuercher Zeitung.

"We must launch a second attempt to see what leeway there is," he was quoted as saying. "I would like to see a new start succeeding with talks. The most recent developments globally and in the European Union should be taken into account in this."

The SPD and the Greens who control Germany's upper house of parliament last year scuppered the governments' deal, arguing it was too lenient as it would have protected the anonymity of German account holders while imposing a tax on their assets.

Merkel's government cannot afford to be seen as soft on tax evasion, a topic the Social Democrats are perceived to be tougher on.

A poll on Wednesday had the conservatives falling three points to 39 percent after news that Bayern Munich chief Uli Hoeness, who has links to the conservatives, had disclosed to authorities that he had not paid his taxes on a Swiss account.

Schaeuble said a bilateral deal with Switzerland was now no longer the way forward.

"The agreement would have been the only way (to deal with the past). But that's over now," Schaeuble said, referring to tax evasion taking place prior to the agreement.

"The goal of the federal government is a general rule for all capital income with full exchange of information in all of Europe," he added.

The EU's six biggest countries last month agreed to increase their cooperation in fighting tax havens, attempting to pile pressure on those countries that want to secure bank secrecy. (Reporting by Annika Breidthardt; editing by James Jukwey)

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