- The Washington Times - Friday, May 5, 2006

BRUSSELS (AP) — Any windfall tax on oil companies’ profits should be done on a global basis, Austria’s finance minister said yesterday as EU politicians joined their counterparts in the United States in debates about taking a bigger share of the industry’s record profits.

“It’s a good idea to do something about this,” Austrian Finance Minister Karl-Heinz Grasser said, as European finance ministers gathered for their monthly meeting.

“But we need to act globally … it should only go ahead globally so as to avoid any sort of competition between the main economic blocs: the U.S., the EU and Asia.”

He stressed that the debate is still in its infancy.

“There’s only been an outline produced; there’s been no thorough discussion,” he said. “We should have further public discussion once we’ve analyzed this thoroughly, once we’ve looked at the chances of implementation in practice.”

On Thursday, Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who led a meeting of ministers from countries that use the euro, described energy companies reaping big profits from higher prices as “a source of irritation for public opinion.”

“We are asking oil companies to invest in a sustainable way,” he said yesterday.

Royal Dutch Shell PLC said Thursday its first-quarter earnings rose 3 percent to $6.89 billion, while France’s Total SA reported profits that rose 15 percent to $4.65 billion.

Dutch Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm said he was against a tax on oil company profits.

Taken as a group, Shell, Total, BP PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips Co. reported first-quarter profits of $32.8 billion, a 6.5 percent rise.

Mr. Juncker said Thursday he did not expect oil to drop below $63 a barrel in the near future. Prices hit a record high above $75 a barrel in intraday trading on April 21 and remain roughly 40 percent higher than a year ago.

The idea of a windfall tax has been a hot topic in the U.S. as well. Some Democrats in Congress have called for taxing profits on oil sold at more than $40 a barrel, but they have been unable to muster enough support to get it passed.

President Bush has opposed such a tax and oil executives have told Congress it would inhibit oil development.

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