Frieden Says EU Ministers May Agree on Tax Negotiating Mandate

European Union finance ministers may agree on how to negotiate tax treaties with Switzerland and Liechtenstein without finishing updates to the bloc’s savings tax accord, Luxembourg Finance Minister Luc Frieden said.

The long-delayed savings tax pact still needs more work, Frieden said today. At the same time, he said it might be possible to proceed with the negotiating mandate, which also covers talks with Andorra, San Marino and Monaco.

“We won’t agree tomorrow to the savings tax directive with an extended use because there’s still some need for clarification,” Frieden told reporters in Brussels. “As far as the mandate is concerned, I suppose both Luxembourg and Austria can accept it.”

Austria and Luxembourg have blocked the two tax agreements because of a reluctance to cede ground on automatic tax information exchange and other bank secrecy issues. Both nations have in recent weeks agreed to change their information-exchange policies, jumpstarting the EU tax talks.

Frieden said his nation might support some progress on the savings tax accord even if it can’t be finished. “We are fine with extending the field of use of the directive, but at the moment we lack precision about a number of questions that need answers,” he said.

Austrian Finance Minister Maria Fekter did not speak to reporters when she arrived in Brussels for a euro-area finance minister’s meeting today. Spokesman Gregor Schuetze declined to comment on Frieden’s remarks or Austria’s voting position, when reached by telephone today.

‘Constructive Engagement’

European Commission spokeswoman Emer Traynor said the tax issues appear to be near agreement. “We’ve seen in recent weeks Austria move from a position of quite strong intransigence to openness and constructive engagement,” Traynor said.

French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici also predicted a deal. “What I expect is that everybody agrees now to the fact that we can adopt the principle contained in the directive on savings,” Moscovici said. “This is very important. Everything’s moving.”

France has led calls for Europe to adopt an anti-tax-evasion framework similar to FATCA, the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. The Group of Seven nations, which includes the U.S., also pledged to continue efforts to fight tax fraud during talks last week.

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