Austria defies mounting pressure to end bank secrecy

Sat Apr 13, 2013 12:21pm EDT
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By John O'Donnell and Jan Strupczewski

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Austria defied growing pressure to follow Luxembourg in ending bank secrecy, after a group led by Europe's six biggest countries pledged to work together to tackle tax havens.

Late on Friday, the finance ministers of Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Spain and Poland announced their desire to jointly push for more bank transparency, a message they will take to the meeting of the Group of 20 top global economies in Washington next week.

"Nobody can deny that bank secrecy is outdated, that we need an efficient system to tackle evasion strategies," French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici told reporters, flanked by his counterparts from the other countries.

"Our mission is to create momentum. When these six major capitals of Europe move together, it creates a strong signal which nobody can resist."

On Saturday, three other countries - Belgium, the Netherlands and Romania - joined the initiative, the European Commission's official in charge of tax policy, Algirdas Semeta said.

"It's about allowing member states to make the right tax choices for them without being affected by the malpractices of others," Semeta told journalists, on the sidelines of an EU ministers' meeting. "In a nutshell, it's about fairness."

Poland's finance minister told Reuters that he joined the group to ensure foreign multinationals do not abuse tax regimes for profit. Such companies are particularly important for central and eastern Europe.

"The scale of the problem is smaller in Poland than in western Europe but some of the techniques used in western Europe to evade taxes are being transferred to Poland too," Jacek Rostowski said.   Continued...

Austrian Finance Minister Maria Fekter reacts during a plenary session in the house of parliament in Vienna January 30, 2013. REUTERS/Herwig Prammer