From January 16, when the Federal
Council decided to enact the Tax Administrative Assistance Act
dealing with administrative assistance under
double taxation agreements, up to November 29, when the
council announced enhanced due diligence that Swiss banks have
to follow to ensure they do not accept untaxed assets, and also
gave authorisation to the first Swiss banks to cooperate with
US to settle their tax dispute,
Widmer-Schlumpf and the Federal Department of Finance have
had to deal with a
range of issues under the intense gaze of the rest of the
In an exclusive interview with International Tax
Review, Widmer-Schlumpf (right),
a member of the Global Tax 50, talks about the issues
she has had to deal with this year.
What have been the most difficult and easiest issues
for you to deal with this year?
In the case of dossiers with an international reach,
which your question was probably referring to, the major
challenge is that we want to solve problems with our foreign
partners and also have to convince the main decision-makers at
home, especially parliament of course, of the merits of such
solutions. This is not always easy, particularly in the case of
items concerning tax compliance and the competitiveness of
Switzerland's financial centre.
Switzerland is a direct democracy â€" this means
not only that the government has to achieve a majority in both
chambers of parliament but also that there is the possibility
of a project having to be put forward for adoption by a popular
vote. This obliges us to find solutions that are as balanced as
possible and comprehensible for all citizens when conducting
negotiations in the international arena. Consequently, we
always have to make it clear to our overseas partners that
reforms cannot be made at the stroke of a pen in our democracy
and that a prolonged decision-making process is required before
they can be implemented. While it may appear interminable for
outsiders, this way of doing things guarantees stability and
legal certainty, which is appreciated not only by players in
the Swiss financial centre but also by our partners abroad.
Where do you think you have been able to have the
It is not for me to assess my political impact. In
general, however, it can be said that quite a bit has been
achieved by Switzerland with its commitment to framework
conditions that ensure our financial centre's quality,
stability and integrity. We were able to bring our position to
bear at the
meetings of the G20 finance ministers. The
dialogue with the EU is also proceeding. Regarding the
United States, we have managed to conclude the
FATCA agreement as well as make progress on resolving the
Moreover, important preliminary decisions have been made in
the area of tax administrative assistance in order for
Switzerland to comply with international standards. In this
the signing of the OECD/Council of Europe Convention on Mutual
Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters is worthy of
mention too. Adoption of the revised recommendations of the
Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is also part of our strategy
for a morally sound and successful financial centre.
Switzerland has faced a lot of criticism over its
approach to issues such as exchange of information and secrecy.
Has it been difficult to do your job in those
Whoever criticises us also has to bear in mind the
great number of reforms Switzerland has implemented in recent
years. Our financial integrity strategy has meanwhile become
broadly accepted and is rated positively abroad too.
Switzerland is willing to cooperate actively, within the
framework of the OECD, on the development of a global
standard for the automatic exchange of information. Such a
standard should apply for all financial centres and also cover
trusts in Anglo-Saxon countries.
What are the departmentâ€™s
priorities for 2014?
Aside from the further development of the financial
centre strategy, which the group of experts appointed by the
Federal Council is currently working on, there are two main
challenges in my view.
The first one is to give democratic legitimacy at national
level to several solutions that we have discussed with our
foreign partners. Examples include the new provisions for tax
administrative assistance and the aforementioned OECD/Council
of Europe Convention, which we have to submit to
The second challenge concerns the issue of what should happen
untaxed assets that have been held in Swiss banks for a
long time. The Federal Council is prepared to seek a fair
arrangement for the past with the most important partner states
to enable untaxed legacy assets to be regularised.