Online accounts, pre-paid mobile phone accounts or electronic gift vouchers are all examples of e-money services which are expected to benefit from the new rules.
Moreover, new actors are expected to enter the market, thanks to the new lower threshold required to start up an e-money institution.
With the new rules in place, e-money institutions will need only €350,000 to start a business, instead of the €1 million required so far.
On the other hand, to better protect consumers against the risk of default by e-money institutions, the Parliament raised the capital prudential requirements for issuing electronic money. An e-money institution will have to guarantee that its own funds cover at least 2% of the average outstanding electronic sums.
Legislators expect the e-money market to grow as a consequence of the new rules, partly because electronic money will offer payment options for people who normally do not have access to a bank account, such as children or immigrants.
UK Conservative MEP John Purvis (EPP-ED), the Parliament's rapporteur on the dossier, welcomed the vote, saying that the new legislation represented a "significant step forward to facilitate the use of electronic money for online payments".
To increase consumer confidence in e-money, the new rules foresee an obligation for e-money issuers to give customers, upon request, the monetary value of their electronic credit at any given moment throughout the duration of the contract.
The new rules are expected to be formally adopted before the end of the mandate of the current Commission. Member states will then have 18 months to implement them. The Commission will have to present a report on its application by November 2012.
EU Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy welcomed the vote in Parliament, calling it "a timely step towards the completion of the single market for payments".
However, not everybody shares the view that electronic payments are better than cash. "Cash is much less costly than it is often said, and the cost of payment by cash is often lower than most electronic payments," argues Francis Ravez, secretary-general of ESTA, the European association of security transport companies.
Separately, the Parliament also approved a new regulation on cross-border payments, which extends the principle of equal charges for national and cross-border payments to direct debits, as well as credit transfers, electronic payments and ATM cash withdrawals.
The Parliament's rapporteur on the file, Lithuanian MEP Margarita Starkeviciutie (ALDE), said: "In the longer term, these new rules should help to reduce costs for all consumers. For cross-border direct debit, this regulation sets a level of interchange fee at 0.088 € per transaction during a transitional period" of three years.
"We will accept the three-year transition period if, and only if, the banks stick to the letter of the Commission guidance after 2012," said Xavier Durieu, secretary–general of Eurocommerce, the association of European retailers.