It’s a 20-minute trip by cable car to reach the top of the Aiguille du Midi from Chamonix and as the cabins hiccups and swings with the wind, with 1,000 metres of void beneath, the view is breathtaking. But is Europe so pure and transparent as it seems from its highest point? European financial reform has certainly come a long way since the onset of the financial crisis in 2007.
This region used to be a crowded place with cash-stuffed suitcases being dragged from France to Switzerland and regular mountain chases with Italian Guardia di Finanza or French “douaniers” . Now the skiing border officers no longer patrol in France, except when training for the Olympics. Some of them even won medals at the Sochi games.
Getting cash to Switzerland to avoid taxes is no longer common as banking secrecy is falling apart. The EU has pushed hard at the G20 and OECD level to improve financial transparency as tax havens and money laundering became major issues for indebted European countries. Europe is also pushing its member states to disclose more and more information to each other, through fiscal cooperation or cross-border collaboration to fight tax evasion.
Improved financial regulation in Europe after the fall of the Lehman Brothers bank has also played a role in reassuring European savers about their deposits. Many new directives have been adopted to add some control, limit market abuse and prevent banking crisis. New supervising authorities have been put in place.
Financial markets have also been in the focus in this new regulation, with the European Market Infrastructure Regulation or EMIR entering into force in 2014. It has brought transparency to financial transactions and banking activities by registering most of the transactions that used to take place “over the counter”- meaning behind the curtains.
In fact, money is now pouring out of Switzerland, as European banking regulation offers better security. A big change for the small country that used to shelter a third of tax haven funds according to the economist Gabriel Zucman.
Border guards believe the border control post of St Julien en Genevois is still the place in France where they get the best catches, but now it is from Switzerland to France, not the other way around.