State of the nation: Federal Councillor and Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf speaks with Renske Heddema about banking secrecy, the controversial minaret ban, euthanasia and Switzerland's international relations. Let's join them in Bern ...

AuteurHeddema, Renske
Fonction Politics - Cover story


A guard in a green uniform takes me into her office in Bundeshaus West. The Federal Councillor rises from behind her desk, apologising for the delay; she has been on the phone with Russia.

Reassuring me that the delay won't be deducted from my time, she invites me to have a seat on the white leather couch in the centre of the room. She is exactly as friendly and accessible as the first time I met her in Zurich in 2008.

It is not hard to imagine how this minister succeeded in giving Mister Switzerland--who apparently voted in favour of the minaret ban in November's referendum--second thoughts on his decision. On his visit to the Bundeshaus 10 days after the vote, the newly elected Mister Switzerland was impressed by Widmer-Schlumpf's arguments after a private audience in this very room.

While her guard serves us tea, the minister quietly takes my questions.

Renske Heddema, Swiss News: Frau Bundesratin, a CD containing stolen account information from a Swiss bank was recently bought by the German government. How does the Swiss government view this action?

Federal Councillor Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf: It is theft, obviously. We are of the opinion that a law-abiding state should not use stolen data to assert any claims a state holds against a citizen. I have my concerns regarding the consequences of such an action. This case could set a precedent. The Swiss police authorities have started an investigation. We will not give any information about the possible perpetrator or perpetrators, or about the bank involved, until the investigation is completed.

In a telephone call with Swiss President Doris Leuthard, Chancellor Merkel explained the German position. She allegedly said that the current problems would become obsolete with the new bilateral fiscal treaty with Germany. The German chancellor seems to refer to the automatic exchange of information between Swiss and German fiscal authorities.

That may be. It depends on how you define automatic exchange. Switzerland is opposed to what we call 'the glass citizen', just as EU countries such as Luxembourg and Austria are. In future we are ready to assist if there are reasonable grounds for suspicion of tax evasion. If tax fraud is involved, we already grant administrative or legal assistance. What we do not want, however, is to give foreign tax authorities full access at any moment to the accounts of foreigners in Swiss banks. Switzerland has a system in which citizens are asked...

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