Having had a go at Great Britain a few weeks ago, it is time to turn to Germany.
The starting point of this rant is Switzerland, though. Switzerland has been an interesting place to be now when the world’s attention has been turning towards tax evasion, and Swiss media has been fascinating to follow. For example, when the Cahuzac affair became public knowledge, Swiss media emphasised the fact that the authorities here had immediately responded when requested to do so by their French counterparts, revealing the information that forced the story, and Mr Cahuzac’s political career, to unravel. Similarly, when “Offshore leaks” hit the news, the Swiss press was ever so slightly gleeful in its “see? It’s not just us!” attitude. To some extent my beloved neighbours have in fact been since vindicated, with the EU starting to look into cleaning up its own back yard (also known as the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, Luxembourg, Netherlands Antilles, Cyprus etc) in addition to putting pressure on others.
And here is where Germany enters the picture. One of the main aspects of this chase of tax evaders has been the see-saw between Switzerland and Germany, where Germany has tried to force its smaller neighbour to enter into a bilateral treaty that would give the German tax authorities the right to automatically get information about deposits by German tax payers in Swiss banks. When the diplomatic arm-twisting has failed (in the last round it was actually the German parliament that rejected the agreed text as not tough enough), the tax authorities have taken the dubious short cut of buying stolen data containing just such information instead. This has now happened several times.
In all this one thing appears to be forgotten: it is NOT criminal in this country, or any other, to put money in a bank account. The Swiss banks have in fact done nothing wrong. By contrast, it is not only criminal, but morally reprehensible, to evade taxes. Tax evasion, like corruption, is stealing from the poorest members of society.
So why are so many Germans so keen to defraud the tax authorities? Hey Germans, the Swiss pay their taxes without any grumbles! Time magazine says it’s because they have their direct democracy, but I think the reason is simpler: taxes here are low and we get good services for them. Why would you not pay? It’s value for money! The Finns also do not really evade taxes. Partially I think because there are not that many rich people in Finland, partially because the total transparency of the system (everyone’s tax records are publicly available) discourages hiding and makes getting caught more likely and partially because it is publicly totally condemned.
Shame on you Germany, the promised land of tax evasion. Stop bullying Switzerland and focus on figuring out the reasons why your citizens are so eager to engage in stealing from the poorest members of society. As far as I understand, tax evasion gets very light penalties* and must be pretty acceptable behaviour, since so many people do it. Maybe that could be a place to start ...
*My understanding was that if you confess tax evasion in Germany you escape criminal sanctions altogether, and only have to pay the back taxes, but F assures me this is not the case.