By Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union legislators have voted for a draft anti-corruption law, echoing rigorous U.S. rules to make oil, gas and mining firms declare payments they make in resource-rich nations.
Pressure has mounted on the EU to take a tough line after the U.S. regulator in August set demanding rules for U.S.-listed firms.
Tuesday's series of votes in the European Parliament backed detailed reporting to regulatory authorities starting from a minimum threshold of 80,000 euros ($105,100), almost identical to the $100,000 U.S. requirement and far lower than the million-dollar level some resource firms had said was practical.
In contrast to the U.S. rules, the European Union is also proposing to include the forestry industry and banking, construction and telecommunication sectors on a less detailed level than for extractive industries.
Non-governmental organizations were swift to welcome Tuesday's decisions, although the draft rules will only become law following further negotiations and approval by EU member states.
"Today's vote brings us one step closer to helping citizens harness the often vast natural resource wealth of their countries to finance the fight against extreme poverty, disease and hunger, and the transformation of their economies to build opportunity for all," said Eloise Todd, Brussels director of campaign group ONE.
ONE campaigns against poverty, especially in Africa, where resource wealth is concentrated in the hands of a rich elite, meaning for millions the resources are a curse rather than a blessing.
Another campaign group, Transparency International, said Tuesday's votes should help to ensure benefits of payments, such as royalties, signature and production bonuses or license fees are shared.
"Wealth in some of the poorest countries should no longer stay in the hands of corrupt elites, politicians and industry insiders," said Jana Mittermaier, director of the Transparency International EU office.
MAJORS SAY THEY SUPPORT TRANSPARENCY
Oil majors and other resource firms have said they believe in transparency and have already signed up to international guidelines enshrined in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.
But some have complained that the European Parliament's insistence on project-by-project reporting, as opposed to reporting at government level, is unnecessary and impractical, and have also taken issue with the payment threshold.
Arlene McCarthy, a British Labour member of the European Parliament who led the discussions in the assembly, said it had stood firm against industry lobbying.
"We have not given in to the pressure of industry and government lobbying for a weak transparency regime. We are insisting on project-by-project reporting with a low threshold," she said in a statement.
"Project-level disclosure is the only way in which local communities in resource-rich countries are able to expose corruption and hold their governments accountable for using revenues towards development."
Others who have lent their voice to the call for a strong stance include Kofi Annan, the former U.N. secretary general who last week cited the example of labour unrest sweeping South Africa's platinum belt as an added reason to crack down on corruption.
"The recent violence at the Marikana mine in South Africa shows what happens when trust is in short supply at the local level," he wrote in an opinion piece published in the New York Times.
(Editing by James Jukwey)