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Austria Yields to EU Savings-Tax Talks as Bank Secrecy Wobbles

Austria became the last of the European Union’s 27 members to give up blocking the coordination of savings taxes and talks with non-EU countries, a sign that banking secrecy within the bloc may be over.

The country will “cooperate constructively” in the talks about broader tax cooperation with the countries outside the union, Chancellor Werner Faymann and Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger said today in a joint statement published on the website of the Chancellery.

“We want the international struggle against tax fraud to work and we want to be engaged actively in it,” Faymann and Spindelegger said in the statement. “Whether or not we will agree to the extended savings-tax directive will depend on whether it will indeed be suited to effectively avoiding tax evasion and tax fraud.”

Luxembourg and Austria last year vetoed negotiations over the extension of a savings-tax agreement because of concerns they would be forced to give up banking-secrecy measures that attract foreign depositors. The two countries blocked the EU from starting talks on updating the seven-year-old tax accord with Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Andorra and San Marino.

Luxembourg gave up its opposition two weeks ago, leaving Austria isolated. Faymann criticized his Finance Minister Maria Fekter in a radio interview today for a draft letter to the European Commission that identified four “conditions” for those talks. He said Austria was becoming a “laughing stock” because of how it dealt with the issue. Faymann listed three issues in his statement that Austria considers to be “decisive,” while avoiding to characterize them as conditions.

Fekter said in a statement she welcomed Faymann’s and Spindelegger’s comments. Austria is governed by a coalition of Faymann’s centre-left Social Democrats and the conservative People’s Party to which Spindelegger and Fekter belong. National elections are due in September.

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