* Chancellor Faymann sees chance for deal by EU summit in
* Austria ready to drop bank secrecy on foreigners' accounts
* Unified EU position will allow talks with Switzerland,
* European Commission gives cautious welcome to new stance
By Michael Shields
VIENNA, April 27 Austria aims to agree within
weeks to give other European Union countries access to
foreigners' bank account details, Chancellor Werner Faymann said
on Saturday, allowing the bloc to begin talks over bank secrecy
with non-EU states such as Switzerland.
Faymann said he hoped for a deal before a May 22 EU summit
that will discuss ways to curb tax dodging that costs members
about 1 trillion euros ($1.30 trillion) a year in lost income.
EU leaders have pushed Austria for a deal before the meeting.
"We want to achieve a result for an exchange of data in the
interest of fighting fraud in Europe," Faymann said in an
interview aired by broadcaster ORF, playing down the potential
impact of data swaps on Austria's banking sector.
"The biggest economic damage would be if we got the
reputation of protecting frauds. Austrians don't find this
necessary and I have spoken with bank managers who also don't
find it necessary," he said.
Austria, the last EU holdout on bank secrecy, said on Friday
it was ready for talks as long as banking secrecy for Austrians
is preserved, and detailed its three main concerns.
Vienna had been isolated on this after Luxembourg changed
tack this month.
Austrian banks at times use banking secrecy as a marketing
tool, but foreign deposits do not play as much of a role as they
do in major offshore centres such as Cyrpus and Luxembourg.
EU citizens have about 35 billion euros ($46 billion) in
Austrian deposits, a tenth of the total, while foreigners have
53 billion euros in banks in Austria, the central bank says.
Austria now has banks withhold tax on EU citizens' interest
income and returns the money anonymously to home countries.
After weeks of wrangling, Faymann's centre-left Social
Democrats and their centre-right People's Party coalition
partners have laid out priorities for EU talks on an accord
starting next week.
Finance Minister Maria Fekter, who had taken the hardest
line in defence of Austrian banking secrecy, said she supported
the joint position, which cites three points of "decisive
relevance" for Austria.
Vienna wants negotiations to require an exchange of bank
account data at least in line with Organisation for Economic
Cooperation and Development (OECD) standards, reveal owners of
trusts and mailbox companies, and take into account bilateral
tax deals it already struck with Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
Those accords preserve bank secrecy and are set to bring in
more than 1 billion euros from mid-2013 from accounts Austrians
hold across the borders.
Faymann made a point of saying Austria's concerns were just
that, and not conditions for a deal.
"We don't need to blackmail anyone. We ourselves want the
exchange of data to make it easier to fight fraud," he said.
"Our own banking secrecy is not affected. Prosecuting
international fraud will be fully supported, and English trusts
and the Channel Islands will also come into play."
Fekter has campaigned to have tax talks include not just
bank accounts, but also trusts and other investment vehicles
designed to cloak investors' identities. She has urged Britain
and the United States to crack down on money laundering and "tax
havens" in their own backyards.
A European Commission spokeswoman gave a cautious welcome to
Austria's new position, which it had not yet seen officially.
"If Austria is willing to back the mandate to negotiate a
stronger EU-Swiss agreement, then this would be very good news,"