France warns Austria to help fight tax fraud

PARIS (AFP) - France turned up the heat on Austria on Thursday, with French Budget Minister Bernard Cazeneuve saying that it could be placed on a French list of non-cooperative countries if lawmakers do not agree to an automatic exchange of information aimed at combating tax evasion.

Mr Cazeneuve told the state-owned radio France Info: "It is not normal that countries like Austria for example do not communicate information they have regarding European Union citizens who have accounts there."

He added: "If these countries do not cooperate, if there is not a convention covering an information exchange that allows for total transparency within the European Union, these countries run the risk of being on the list of non-cooperative states and territories."

Austria is the last EU member to resist lifting bank secrecy policies, after Luxembourg said on Wednesday that it would implement rules allowing for the exchange of account information starting in 2015.

Mr Cazeneuve was named French budget minister on March 19 to replace Mr Jerome Cahuzac, who resigned as it emerged that he had maintained a non-declared bank account in Switzerland.

On Wednesday, President Francois Hollande unveiled a series of proposals aimed at reinforcing transparency in the banking sector and said that France would establish a list each year of tax havens.

A French list of non-cooperative countries and territories has in fact existed since 2010, and its latest update in April 2012 contained eight names, down from 18 in the original version.

At present, Botswana, Brunei, Guatemala, the Marshall Islands, Montserrat, Nauru, Niue and the Philippines are considered by Paris to be uncooperative in the fight against tax fraud.

Leading European countries have called meanwhile for a continental version of the US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which obliges foreign countries to reveal information on the investments and revenues of US citizens abroad.