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Coalition justifies Austrian-Swiss tax treaty

The opposition teamed up in attacking the government over its tax agreement with Switzerland.

People’s Party (ÖVP) Finance Minister Maria Fekter agreed with her Swiss counterpart, Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, about charging a tax of 15 to 38 per cent on Austrians’ assets in Switzerland shortly. Fekter said in Swiss capital Bern, where the treaty was signed last week, that the individual tax rates would depend on whether people already paid income tax on the money. The former interior minister added that other aspects such as how long the money had already been stashed away in Swiss bank accounts would matter as well.

The ÖVP and its coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ), claimed the settlement would help Austria to additional tax revenues of one billion Euros next year and 50 million Euros a year from 2014.

All of the federal government’s three opposition factions harshly criticised the deal in a debate yesterday (Thurs). Greens chairwoman Eva Glawischnig branded the agreement as "hypocritical" while Freedom Party (FPÖ) chief Heinz-Christian Strache called it a "disgrace". Strache accused the government of "pardoning tax refugees". Strache added he wondered how the government planned to argue this step towards honest taxpayers. Josef Bucher, who heads the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) claimed "Austrians are ashamed of their finance minister’s actions."

Günter Stummvoll of the ÖVP congratulated Fekter and her team of negotiators regarding the contents of the settlement but also for having reached an agreement "in so little time". SPÖ parliament member (MP) Kai-Jan Krainer said pushing for a bilateral taxation agreement with the non-European Union (EU) member – which shares a border with Austria – had been the right thing to do.

The taxation treaty could eventually help the ÖVP and its finance minister in particular to better public opinion research figures. The party, which came second in the general ballot of 2008 behind the SPÖ, is currently only in third place behind the Social Democrats and the ÖVP. Fekter is the least popular ÖVP minister at the moment, according to a new OGM survey. Only one year ago, she was rumoured to take over as chief of the conservative party due to strong public acclaim for her tough law and order policies as interior minister. Fekter’s image has worsened dramatically in the past weeks, also due to a recent incident at a meeting of the EU’s finance ministers in Belgian capital Brussels.

The Austrian finance minister angered Luxembourgian Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who heads the Eurozone – by informing the press about details of a planned Eurozone budget stability agreement before Juncker had a chance to start his press conference. Fekter made everything worse by claiming that Juncker’s mood was bad due to a kidney stone issue, not because of her decision to address the media prematurely. She eventually apologised to Juncker – which did not stop speculations that these blunders heralded an early end to her role as Austrian finance minister.

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