The FINANCIAL -- European commissioner
Algirdas Semeta criticised Austrian policies on banking secrecy Friday,
suggesting in an interview that the EU might file a complaint on the
"A country like Austria cannot exchange banking information with the United States, but refuse it to European partners," Semeta told the Austrian daily Der Standard.
He referred to an agreement being negotiated by Austria and the US that would provide for an automatic exchange of information on US citizens who hold bank accounts in Austria.
Semeta said that if an EU member accorded better conditions to a third country than to partners within the European Union, "that is a violation of the law, which could lead to a complaint by the European Commission."
Austria and Luxembourg are the only EU members that refuse to divulge the identity of EU residents that own bank accounts in their countries, owing to principles of banking secrecy.
"I see no reason that justifies Austria and Luxembourg blocking advances within the EU," said Semeta, who is commissioner for taxation and customs union.
Information exchanges "would allow other countries to recuperate the taxes due them," he noted.
The European Commission would also like EU members to give it a mandate to negotiate an exchange of banking information with Switzerland.
But Semeta charged that "Austria and Luxembourg are blocking" the process, which must receive unanimous approval.
As EUbusiness announced, Austria has concluded separate agreements with Switzerland and Liechtenstein to preserve banking secrecy, and Austrian Finance Minister Maria Fekter reaffirmed Thursday that "we do not accept automatic exchanges of information."
That would allow Switzerland "to become a (fiscal) paradise in Europe, along with other smaller states like Saint-Marin, the Canary Islands or Monaco," she added.