if you’ve been following the swiss press over the last couple of weeks you might have noticed that the finance minister of my home country, mr steinbrück, managed to get most of the 7-plus million swiss all excited — well, angry is probably the better word for it. what happened? and what does it have to do with my tax declaration?
well. most of the larger EU countries but also the US have been trying to negotiate better ways of cooperating with switzerland on the exchange of financial information about [swiss bank accounts held by their respective citizens][wiki-swiss-banking] — in particular information on those accounts whose owners the respective governments suspect of tax evasion and worse. [since 1934 switzerland had a banking law…][wiki-swiss-banking-1934]
> …which codified the rules of secrecy and criminalizes violation of it _[[wikipedia: banking in switzerland][wiki-swiss-banking-1934]]_
basically (and i’m simplifying a bit here) only swiss banks knew about your accounts, nobody else would. ever. ideal for protecting your privacy. but also ideal for protecting your ill-gotten gains from interested eyes — except, well, except if you live in switzerland: in contrast to most other countries where your taxes are withheld from your salary right away, in switzerland you have to pay them yourself and usually in one lump sum at the beginning of the year and you can also go to the tax office and request to see what your neighbor filed and declared as income and as assets, which introduces a kind of social checks and balances system for taxes. also, the swiss make a fine destinction between forgetting to include facts in their tax declaration and tax fraud — a distinction that most non-swiss fail to understand.
since 1934 there have been repeated attempts by various countries to penetrate the swiss banking secrecy: the european countries with less luck, the US with considerably more success — perhaps due to the [long lasting swiss–american love story][swiss-us]?[^1] as of a couple of weeks ago, switzerland was only willing to lift the bank secret if the requesting country could provide proof of tax fraud being committed by one of its citizens…
…then came mr steinbrück, the german finance minister. a man in need of money and also a man with a certain rough charme, he started firing verbal broadside after broadside against the swiss banking secrecy act. actually, it was not just mr steinbrück but also mr obama, mr gordon, mr sarkozy, and probably others, but for some reason the swiss press latched on to every uttering of mr steinbrück. some of which where really downright rude, others were not only rude but downright stupid. most of them (and their ripostes from swiss politician) on kindergarten level — that is, rather refined.
things came to the boil, when parts of the [OECD][wiki-oecd] started talking about a “black list” of tax havens and possible sanctions against any country that found itself on that list — and, oh, dear, [they mumbled something about including switzerland][wiki-oecd-ch] unless, unless switzerland would adopt article 26 of the OECD model tax convention.
some right wing swiss politician fancied themselves in the middle of a war by then, the swiss finance minister kind of said “only over my dead body”, the press was having a feast. a week or so later, the same finance minister announced that [switzerland would adopt article 26 after all][swiss-oecd-26], prompting cries of outrage and “traitor!” as well as heated discussions in parliament and pubs alike.
enter, stage left, again, mr steinbrück: smart guy that he is, he mentions in a interview with swiss television that there never was a black list, and that it was just a ruse to scare the tax heavens worldwide, “like the threat of the cavalry against the indians”. that, to put it bluntly is not only rude but also rather stupid[^2]
now, he didn’t really equal the swiss with the american indians — but that subtlety was lost on the swiss press and subsequently also lost on most of the swiss population. if we had heated discussions before, we now were in the boiling pot. mr steinbrück became the most hated man in switzerland. somehow the swiss fascination with america didn’t extend to being compared with the american indians.
this is were my tax declaration and my proposal to solve this problem comes in 🙂 as i mentioned earlier in switzerland you have to pay your taxes in one go early in the year. your tax declaration is due by march 31 (that is, yesterday). every year my wife and i collate all the various bank statements and then figure out the official currency conversion rates for our german bank accounts (not an easy undertaking, for some reason the cantonal tax authorities hide that information in huge lists of stock price listings, not immediately obvious if you do this kind of stuff just once a year), apply those to the bank statements, tabulate them and transcribe them into the tax software. tedious. annoying.
so, here’s my proposal: why not give each country’s tax authority the right to automatically access the information about all your bank accounts in each country at year end and have them obtain the current balance as well as earnings on that account — and in return they pre-fill the tax declaration for me? including downloading those 20-plus megabyte PDF files and looking up the official currency conversion rates at year end? just an idea 😀
[^1]: well, at least in the swiss–US direction, not sure whether the US population at large is even able to distinguish between switzerland and sweden…
[^2]: who is going to believe mr steinbrück and company in future after such a statement?