Austria will not change controversial banking secrecy laws, its finance minister insisted on Friday, despite becoming isolated in a European Union push to clamp down on tax evasion and fraud.
Finance Minister Maria Fekter said Austria would "stick to" a constitutionally-guaranteed protection of privacy for deposit-holders, and added that EU partners would be better served focusing on British-dependent tax havens in the Caribbean and elsewhere.
The automatic exchange of banking data among EU states has been long resisted by Austria and Luxembourg, but the latter gave in this week to what it described as an unstoppable tide.
Automatic sharing of account data "is a massive intrusion of privacy," Fekter said as she arrived for eurozone talks that were to focus on filling gaps in a bailout for Cyprus.
She said that automatic exchange meant governments would be "snooping in the affairs of depositors."
Fekter added that the balance of power among political parties in Austria meant it would not be possible to change the Austrian constitution.
"The government doesn't have a majority," the finance minister said, adding she expected the constitution to remain that way "for a long time."
Instead, Fekter sought to point the finger at "the real tax havens in the EU" and said she would talk about that with British finance minister George Osborne.
She cited the Channel Islands, Gibraltar, the Cayman Islands and Virgin Islands as "the real hot spots for money laundering and tax evasion."
The issue is to be discussed among ministers later on Friday at the two-day Dublin talks.
French Budget Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Thursday that Austria 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.