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 organisation, 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.

No-one at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants was immediately available for comment.

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 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; Editing by Alison Birrane)