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UK's Osborne says EU should move toward public tax disclosures

[LONDON] UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said the European Union needs to make a push for companies to publish their country-by-country tax bills.

The European Commission last month proposed that tax authorities share such reports, as part of a broader package to crack down on tax dodgers. Osborne said the bloc can go further and the world should follow; he also said current proposals don't do enough to stop companies shuffling their profits between countries to minimize their tax bills, also known as transfer pricing.

"We should be moving to more public country-by-country reporting," Osborne said, during debate with European finance ministers in Brussels Friday. "This is something the UK will seek to promote internationally." The EU wants to make it harder for companies to exploit differences in national laws or park profits in a low-tax jurisdiction instead of paying taxes in the locales where the revenue gets generated. The 28-nation bloc also is tightening oversight of sweetheart tax deals for multinational firms, as reflected by tax probes involving Apple Inc, McDonalds Corp and Starbucks Corp.

EU Economic and Tax Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said the bloc is studying the issue of public disclosure and may move ahead in the future. For now, the Brussels-based commission is concentrating on a slate of measures tied to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's report last year on base erosion and profit shifting, known as BEPS.

"We need to fill all the possible gaps," Moscovici said during the debate, adding that the bloc needs to adapt the OECD principles to make them work under EU law.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble called for the commission's tax plan to be split up so that parts of it could be implemented more quickly. He urged the EU to begin by carrying out the BEPS agreements on their own, "with no deviation," then consider further measures.

"We should not have one package," Schaeuble said. "We will lose time, a lot of time." Broad Support Technical negotiations already are underway, and the European Commission proposals could be adopted in the first half of this year, said Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, whose nation holds the EU's rotating administrative presidency. Dijsselbloem said the Netherlands will lead a "phased-in" approach on Moscovici's proposals.

The EU commission's proposals on administrative cooperation could be agreed on politically as soon as March, Dijsselbloem said. The other half of the EU plan, a more general anti-tax- avoidance directive, will proceed separately, with an aim toward getting a deal by mid-year.

"We will give this high priority," Dijsselbloem told reporters in a press conference after the meeting. He said he'll pursue an "ambitious timetable, which foresees reaching political agreement on both these files before end of our presidency." Other nations generally supported the EU proposals. Spanish Finance Minister Luis de Guindos called for the EU to look more closely at whether to have a coordinated blacklist of tax-haven countries, while Finland's Alexander Stubb said nations need more information on the financial impact of the tax changes.

EU nations must agree unanimously for tax plans to be enacted. The European Parliament plays an advisory role in deliberations and cannot directly participate.