* Fighting tax evasion on agenda of G8 summit
* Swiss only likely to seal negotiating mandate in autumn
* Semeta rejects Swiss demand to link talks to market access
BERNE, June 17 The European Union official in
charge of tax policy tried to persuade Switzerland on Monday to
agree to surrender more information about clients of its big
banking industry as part of a drive to combat tax evasion.
Commissioner Algirdas Semeta's meeting with Swiss Finance
Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf in Bern came as British Prime
Minister David Cameron was due to put his aim of fighting tax
evasion on the agenda of a G8 summit he is hosting on Monday and
"It is widely accepted worldwide today that the era of bank
secrecy is over," Semeta told a news conference after the talks.
"Switzerland can gain from a stronger tax agreement with the
EU with automatic exchange of information at its core. It would
be a clear signal from Switzerland that it supports fair play."
Switzerland, the world's biggest offshore financial centre,
with $2 trillion in assets under management, is under pressure
from both the EU and the United States to end bank secrecy as
cash-strapped states seek to stop tax evasion.
The issue has become even more heated in recent months as
U.S. authorities threaten to indict Swiss banks, a French
minister quit over his Swiss account and Bayern Munich president
Uli Hoeness admitted evading taxes through a Swiss bank.
EU finance ministers last month gave the European Commission
the go-ahead to negotiate with Switzerland, Liechtenstein, San
Marino, Andorra and Monaco to expand the kind of client
information banks must surrender to tax authorities.
Widmer-Schlumpf said the Swiss government would probably
only be able to start formal talks with the EU in the autumn and
would push for global standards on data exchange at the
Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
"For Switzerland it is important that we continue to engage
ourselves for a level playing field, not just within the EU but
beyond the EU," she said.
A Swiss government commission recommended last week that the
country should be ready to share data on foreign depositors with
the EU even before a global standard is established for
exchanging information on bank clients.
The report said Switzerland should seek in return better
access for its financial industry to the EU market, a position
Widmer-Schlumpf echoed on Monday, although it was swiftly
rebuffed by Semeta.
"The mandate is very clear. Progress on these negotiations
is not linked to any specific issue," he said.
Switzerland has accused the EU of being protectionist and
fragmenting global markets with new rules it says are unfair to
countries outside the bloc, including the draft EU law MiFID,
which imposes stringent obligations on companies from non-EU
countries wanting to do business in the bloc.