* Exemptions last major issue for EU talks
* U.S. appeals court to hear challenge to U.S. law this week
* Soros, France's Hollande, Britain's Clegg back rigour
By Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS, March 19 Europe appears set to agree
rules forcing oil, gas and mining companies to declare payments
to governments, as part of efforts to end poverty in
resource-rich nations by ensuring the wealth is shared out.
EU officials say Tuesday's round of negotiations on a legal
text could be the last, but it is not yet clear whether the
European Union's rules will be as rigorous as U.S. legislation,
which has led to a challenge through the courts.
Once a text has been decided, it will require endorsement
from parliament and member states, which would be expected over
the coming weeks.
On Friday, a U.S. appeals court will hear oral arguments in
the case against regulator the Securities and Exchange
Commission brought by industry body the American Petroleum
In Brussels, the last major sticking point is the issue of
exemptions, which oil companies say are necessary to take
account of the law in certain regimes in which they operate.
Campaign groups disagree.
"It's essential the EU follows the U.S. and deletes any
reference to exemptions," Eloise Todd, Brussels director of
anti-poverty group ONE, said.
"Any whiff of exemptions in these rules could open the door
to corrupt regimes exempting oil companies from reporting the
payments they make."
Investor and philanthropist George Soros has also thrown his
weight behind watertight requirements to ensure any payments are
declared to regulatory authorities where firms are registered.
In a speech in February, he said investors stood to gain
from disclosure because it made assessing risk in firms easier.
He voiced concern the Dutch government was under pressure
from Anglo-Dutch oil company Royal Dutch Shell,
prompting a stiff rebuttal.
SHELL VERSUS SOROS
President Director of Shell Nederland BV Dick Benschop
issued a statement denying the firm was exerting pressure "to
relax the rules".
"Contrary to what Mr. Soros claims, some countries have
national legislation actually prohibiting openness about the
flow of funds," his statement said, without naming the
"The consequence is that companies like Shell will
eventually be forced to elect to break the law somewhere in the
If exemptions are the last major hold-out, another big
debate in Europe has been the threshold for declaring payments.
EU sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, predicted
the EU limit would be similar to the U.S. one. In votes in
September, the European Parliament backed reporting from a
minimum threshold of 80,000 euros ($104,500), almost identical
to the $100,000 U.S. requirement.
It is much higher than the 15,000 euros some campaign groups
say is enough to matter, but far below the million-dollar level
some resource firms had said was practical.
Britain, France and the Netherlands, home to Europe's
biggest oil companies BP, Total and Royal Dutch
Shell, have also offered support for tough requirements.
French President Francois Hollande in a speech in Kinshasa
last October said France would push, at a European level, for
publication "country by country, project by project, without
Britain's Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, also speaking in
October, called for rules "similar to the high standards already
introduced by the U.S."
In the Netherlands, Bart Visser, a spokesman for the Dutch
economic affairs ministry, said EU rules should be in line with
the U.S. law.
"We don't think exemptions should be made because we would
like to create a level playing field for companies in Europe,"