Germany has set back the fight against tax evasion
Those who squirrel away undeclared wealth in Switzerland will be pleased by this deal. What's worse, the UK may follow suit
German tax dodgers with money hidden in Swiss banks can sleep easy tonight. For the German government this week initialled a beggar-thy-neighbour deal that undermines years of diplomatic work to penetrate Switzerland's globally corrosive banking secrecy. The agreement, which is due to be signed by both governments over the next few weeks, sees Germany accepting a paltry $2.8bn upfront from the Swiss banks said to hold some $276bn of Germans' undeclared wealth . In addition, the deal says that Germans will in future be taxed at 26% on the income from their Alpine accounts – money the Swiss authorities will then hand over to Germany. But the Germans with secret accounts will not be forced to tell the taxman that they are hiding their wealth abroad. Their identities will remain secret, allowing Swiss bankers to keep their boasts about "privacy" and "confidentiality". Both governments are spinning their agreement as a huge success for international co-operation and the fight against tax evasion. In fact, Germany is setting back years of work towards the global prize of ending banking secrecy in the world's most pervasive tax haven. It has dealt a serious blow to prospects for automatic, multilateral exchange of tax-related information between governments, which is the gold standard for deterring tax dodging. German Tax Justice Campaigners are hoping the deal with Switzerland can be repealed. But what about the scores of countries without the economic and political clout to negotiate such agreements with Switzerland? How are they to capture some of the billions they are haemorrhaging as a result of tax dodging and corruption? They are reliant on the kind on international co-operation that NGOs including Christian Aid are fighting for, in order to End Tax Haven Secrecy. There may be worse to come. Here in the UK, HM Treasury is negotiating a similar agreement with Switzerland. It has simply been biding its time to see what kind of deal Germany gets. With the UK government pursuing such a self-interested and myopic policy, it is no surprise that senior UK diplomats appear distinctly disinterested in playing ball at the G20, where a truly global deal to end tax haven secrecy could be brokered. A former senior US Treasury official, who used to negotiate tax treaties for the US, recently told me of his fury about how these dirty deals are undoing a whole career's worth of work against financial secrecy. Such is the scourge of tax havens that the Tax Justice Network estimate assets held offshore total $11.5tn – which if taxed could yield revenues in excess of $225bn. This is money that could be paying for schools, hospitals, university fees and so on – not only in the developed world but also in developing countries. It is $11.5tn that could be used productively in the global economy rather than stashed away in an Alpine tax haven for private gain. Meanwhile, the real Swiss economy doesn't seem to be benefiting too much from the influx of dodgy capital. Its government this week met for a third unscheduled session to grapple with curbing the surging value of the Swiss franc, which is damaging Swiss exports and sending the economy down a precarious path. Yet again, it is vested interests who are winning out over the real economy and the everyday citizens who are being deprived of essential services, whether in Basel, Berlin or Bamako.