Plans to launch a European ratings agency to compete with Standard & Poor's, Moody's Investors Service, and Fitch Ratings 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.

S&P, Moody's, and Fitch all have headquarters in the United States.

The founder of consultancy Roland Berger said he hoped a private, nonprofit 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 newspaper 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 policy makers have criticized S&P, Moody's, and Fitch during the Eurozone debt crisis, saying they have been too quick to downgrade the credit ratings of indebted European Union states despite bailouts and austerity programs.

This month, S&P downgraded the credit ratings of nine Eurozone countries, stripping both France and Austria of their coveted triple-A status. EU paymaster Germany avoided a similar fate.

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, as well as in China and among some Arab states, the paper said.

(Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Alison Birrane)