There were three main items on the agenda at the EU parliament’s foreign policy session: bilateral relations, tax agreements between Germany and Switzerland, and dictators’ assets.
In her opening speech to the committee, Calmy-Rey underlined Switzerland’s determination to continue down the bilateral route with the European Union.
Members of the Foreign Policy Commission took the opportunity to check how far the country is willing to go in its collaboration with the EU on tax matters. The Lisbon Treaty has given the European Parliament greater competence in foreign policy and in relations with non-EU countries.
Answering a question about the treaties between Berlin and Bern, Calmy-Rey explained that Switzerland’s adoption of a withholding tax meant it was following a “clean money” strategy, adding that the country was open to negotiating similar treaties with other countries. Greece had shown an interest, the head of the foreign ministry said, though she hinted that no agreement could take place any time soon.
In response to EU accusations that many rich Greeks stashed their money in Swiss banks to avoid paying tax, the top Swiss diplomat said Switzerland had no interest in holding money for people trying to get around the taxman.
Calmy-Rey also rejected reports that €200 billion had flowed from Greece to Switzerland. “People overestimate what is kept in Swiss banks and vaults,” she said.
As for bilateral relations with the EU, Calmy-Rey said the more than 120 agreements already in place were testimony to the strength of Switzerland’s ties with the EU. Still, Calmy-Rey recognized that several issues remained partly unresolved in areas such as electricity, agriculture, and health policies.
The Swiss president agreed it would be possible to further streamline relations between the EU and Switzerland, though she foresaw that “the negotiations won’t be easy.”
Calmy-Rey also pointed out Switzerland’s “pioneering” role in blocking the assets of dictatorial governments. Parliamentarians acknowledged Bern’s efforts to return illicit funds to the citizens of dictatorships.