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Switzerland Angered By Bolkestein's Comments

by Ulrika Lomas,, Brussels

09 October 2002

The Swiss government has responded angrily to suggestions made this week by EU Internal Market Commissioner, Frits Bolkestein over the country's refusal to accept information exchange proposals put forward by the European bloc.

Writing in the Financial Times on Monday, Mr Bolkestein hit out in all directions, claiming that certain among the EU member states which are calling for tough measures to be imposed on Switzerland have a vested interest in seeing the savings tax directive fail:

'Many within the EU and elsewhere have grown rich by attracting the custom of tax evaders and are not in a hurry to lose that custom,' he suggested, adding that: 'Indeed, some of those calling for the strongest possible measures to fight the evasion of savings tax are doing so in the hope that by setting the standards unrealistically high, they will wreck the whole enterprise.'

He then went on to criticise Switzerland for its lack of cooperation, observing that: 'I find it difficult to believe that the Swiss government hesitates to help its EU neighbours to uphold their own laws, including fiscal ones.'

According to the FT, the possibility of imposing sanctions on the Alpine jurisdiction was once again raised by EU finance ministers on Tuesday.

The Swiss government was quick to respond to Mr Bolkestein's allegations, however. Speaking to the media on Monday, head of economic and financial affairs with the Swiss Foreign Office, Jacques de Watteville announced that his government was 'shocked and dismayed' at the EU Internal Market Commissioner's attitude, especially given that the country has proposed several viable alternative measures.

We have made a very effective offer in response to the EU proposals,' Mr de Watteville explained: 'But ultimately this is an EU matter and they can choose among themselves how they treat their own citizens. Obviously not ours.'

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