ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland will not hold a November referendum on deals with Germany, Britain and Austria to tax secret bank accounts after opponents of the agreements failed to gather enough signatures to force a vote, the government said.
Austria and Britain have already ratified the pacts, meaning they can now come into force in January as planned.
However, the fate of the German deal now rests with the Bundesrat, the upper house of the German parliament, where Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government lacks a majority.
Merkel is trying to persuade states governed by the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) to support the deal in the Bundesrat, but that could be harder since the SPD nominated Peer Steinbrueck - a long-term critic of Swiss bank secrecy - as its chancellor candidate.
The Swiss parliament approved the pacts in June. They allow offshore bank account holders of the three countries to preserve anonymity in exchange for a tax on future income and a levy of up to 41 percent on existing assets.
Swiss opponents of the agreements had hoped to prevent them coming into force via a referendum on November 25 but they failed to submit the required 50,000 signatures to the government before a 100-day deadline expired, the government said.
The opponents can still challenge the government’s decision in court.
In Vienna, Austrian Finance Minister Maria Fekter said: “This is a good day for Austria and the Austrian state will now get the money it deserves.”
Austria expects a 1 billion euro tax windfall from the accord, helping as it tries to balance its budget by 2016.
The Swiss government has sought such tax deals - also under consideration by Greece and Italy - as an alternative to the automatic exchange of bank information, to defend the secrecy crucial to its $2 trillion offshore wealth management industry.
The chance of a referendum had already looked slim after Pirmin Schwander, president of the Action for an Independent and Neutral Switzerland (AUNS) told Reuters on Monday he feared a referendum might fall through.
The AUNS, close to the powerful right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), opposes the deals because they mean the Swiss government will have to collect taxes for a foreign government, which the group regards as impinging on Swiss sovereignty.
The youth wing of the Social Democrats had also been collecting signatures to force a referendum, although for completely different reasons. The centre-left group considered the deals were too soft on tax cheats.
Reporting by Catherine Bosley; Editing by Robin Pomeroy