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European rating agency could launch in 2012: report

MILAN (Reuters) - Plans to launch a European ratings agency to compete with S&P, Moody's and Fitch are at an advanced stage and a new private institution could start business as soon as the first half of this year, German businessman Roland Berger told an Italian newspaper.

The founder of consultancy Roland Berger said he hoped a new private, non-profit organization, in the form of a foundation, could be ready in "the first half or the first nine months of the year," according to Saturday's Corriere della Sera.

Berger, who has been lobbying European governments and companies to gather support and financing for a new agency, hopes to have raised the 300 million euros of capital needed from European investors by that time, the paper said.

"The proposed model is of an agency where the service is paid by the clients, who have an interest in having reliable and objective results," Berger said.

Roland Berger partner Markus Krall, who is largely tasked with setting up the agency, told Germany's Euro am Sonntag weekly that it would differentiate itself from competitors by accepting liability for its analysis.

This would mean customers could potentially claim damages from the agency, which Krall said provides a "strong incentive" to provide accurate analysis.

"Currently ratings are legally speaking purely opinion and are not subject to any product liability (laws)," Krall told the paper in comments published on Saturday.

European policymakers have criticised agencies Standard & Poor's , Moody's and Fitch during the euro zone debt crisis, saying they have been too quick to downgrade the credit ratings of indebted EU states despite bailouts and austerity programmes.

Earlier this month, S&P downgraded the credit ratings of nine euro-zone countries, stripping France and Austria of their coveted triple-A status but not EU paymaster Germany.

Berger's plan for the new agency, which would be incorporated in the Netherlands, has received signals of support from the European Commission and governments in Europe but also in China and among some Arab states, the paper said.

(Reporting by Michel Rose, additional reporting by Christiaan Hetzner in Frankfurt; Editing by Alison Birrane)

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