Austria is ready to discuss exchanging more data in an effort to tackle international tax evasion, but banking secrecy will remain in place, the chancellor said Monday following sharp EU criticism.
Austria was "ready for talks on a more intensive exchange of information on international investors," Werner Faymann told the Kleine Zeitung daily in an interview to be published Tuesday.
In a separate interview with Kurier, Faymann said that although "the reputation of the country is at stake," banking secrecy would not be affected in the small and wealthy EU and eurozone member.
"It would be absurd if a grandmother had to show (Finance Minister Maria) Fekter her savings account. This has nothing to do with international tax evasion," he said.
He added in the Kleine Zeitung that he wanted to press Germany "to have a serious word" with British Prime Minister David Cameron about the Channel Islands.
He also took a swipe at Germany's Deutsche Bank for its large operations in the British crown dependency and offshore banking centre.
The comments came after a spokesman for EU Tax Commissioner Algirdas Semeta called it "unacceptable" that Austria was refusing to sign up to an EU-wide push towards an automatic sharing of information on bank account holders.
The spokesman said the EU already had "very clear rules and very strong standards" on tax evasion and bank secrecy which were supported by 25 member states -- with the exception of Luxembourg and Austria.
At the weekend, Luxembourg, home to a large and thriving financial services sector, signalled it was now ready to be more transparent as the Cyprus debt bailout and revelations about tax evasion put the spotlight on tax havens.
Michael Spindelegger, Austrian deputy chancellor and foreign minister, said Monday that Austria was "not a tax haven".
Finance Minister Fekter said that Austrians "have the right to have their savings not just protected in terms of money, but also from an exaggerated access to information exchanges."
"When you look at other European countries that favour information exchanges, you see not a cent of tax money has come out it," she told journalists on Friday in Brussels.
She added to Monday's Oesterreich daily that Austria had already struck bilateral deals with Switzerland and Luxembourg and that she would "fight like a lioness for banking secrecy".
Fekter and Spindelegger are from the conservative People's Party, coalition partners of Faymann's Social Democrats, and the apparent differences over banking secrecy come ahead of elections in the eight-million-strong country in September.