Europe's biggest countries won more recruits on Saturday for a new offensive to recover the huge sums lost each year to tax fraud and money laundering, but hold-out Austria refused to go along.
After a first day of talks in Dublin focused on eurozone bailout issues -- tougher terms for Cyprus, easier repayments for Ireland and Portugal -- the EU's tax commissioner said the Netherlands, Belgium and Romania had signed up to a project driven by the EU's six biggest states.
The nine countries -- a figure likely to rise fast -- want to share customer bank data automatically across borders in a bid to claw back much-needed revenues for cash-strapped governments at a time of recession and high unemployment.
The finance ministers of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain pressed the case at a joint press conference late on Friday, saying all should pay their taxes in the name of fairness.
The EU has been tightening up on tax evasion and money laundering since the 2008 global financial crisis highlighted the problem alongside the reckless the speculative fever that drove banks and countries into the ditch.
Most member states now appear ready to go along but Austria in particular is holding out, insisting that individual privacy is paramount -- including especially bank account details.
Changing tax law across the European Union requires all member countries to give their approval, without exception.
But Austria says the drive is simply "government snooping."
Austrian Finance Minister Maria Fekter said the demands by EU peers were "not necessary," because of a withholding tax Austria implements and which is subject to tax treaty controls with dozens of countries including the EU's biggest.
Vienna taxes revenues at source and passes this on to foreign governments -- although anonymously -- which Fekter argued delivers "more money, and faster."
She vowed: "We will fight (to retain) banking secrecy. I owe that to the Austrians."
Backers, wanting to match the United States, said they want to push the cause at the International Monetary Fund, the G20 and OECD as a government fightback against money-laundering and fraud.
"This fight, this is not only national, a European fight -- but a fight at the global level," French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said late Friday.
"Our message to those who try to evade taxes is this: places where you can hide are getting smaller and smaller," his British counterpart George Osborne said.
France has even threatened to blacklist Austria.
But Vienna in turn pointed accusing finger at British-dependent territories like the Channel Islands or the Cayman Islands.
In response, a British official said that the Crown Dependencies in Europe -- offshore tax havens in Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man and Gibraltar -- each exchange more tax records with the UK than Austria.
Arms-length Overseas Territories such as the Cayman or Virgin Islands have refused to sign up to the same regime but the British official said the authorities were trying to get them to agree.
The big countries have already written to the executive European Commission seeking an EU-level take-up of their campaign.
Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan, chairing Saturday's closing session of his EU colleagues, said he wanted them to get working on it "with a view to taking action at an early date."
The issue will top a May 22 EU leaders summit.
Luxembourg -- the other EU banking haven that blocked legislation in this area for years -- last week indicated a readiness to lift some barriers in 2015.