EU sets end-2013 deadline for automatic bank data sharing

EU leaders agreed Wednesday that the automatic sharing of individuals' bank account data, a key measure to prevent tax evasion, should become law across all member states by the end of the year, European Union President Herman Van Rompuy said.

At the close of a one-day summit, final conclusions flagged by Van Rompuy at a press conference called on member states to complete adoption of regulation covering private savings aimed at ending bank secrecy.

Several leaders indicated they expected the decision to be followed, including by Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who had regularly blocked the move.

Van Rompuy told the summit's closing press conference that momentum had built suddenly "because of the economic crisis," and said progress on further moves aimed at accelerating cross-border cooperation in the recovery of lost tax were also ordered by December.

With technology giants Google and Apple in the spotlight over their use of favourable tax legislation in Ireland, for instance, the leaders agreed to revisit rules governing registration for "parent" and "subsidiary" companies as well as anti money-laundering measures.

Cooperation on sales tax, or VAT, is also in their sights, while the European Commission races to complete negotiations on data sharing with Switzerland, as well as Andorra, Liechtenstein, Monaco and San Marino.

Juncker said these would need to "cover as wide a range of financial products as possible," although he added that he would be satisfied with comparable, and not necessarily identical rules to those within the EU.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the four-hour summit, which followed bilateral talks with Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt in London, "unblocked the situation in Europe."

Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso told the closing press conference that "quite frankly, I would prefer (the outcome) to be more precise."

An Oxfam official said it was "encouraging" that leaders pushing greater transparency began to focus on multinationals, but maintained that "timid" overall steps "backed the interests of an elite minority."

"They failed to agree to set up a public tax havens blacklist and to impose sanctions against tax havens and those using them," Oxfam's Catherine Olier said in a statement.