In its conclusions on 22 January, the Council called upon the industry to "redouble its efforts" to complete the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA), which is due to make EU-wide payments as cheap and easy as they are at national level.
According to Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy, the estimated benefits could amount to €123 billion for payments and a further €238 billion if SEPA is used as a platform for electronic invoicing. "However, it is a complex and challenging project, which is entering a critical phase," he warned.
Finance ministers encouraged the industry to "develop attractive SEPA payment products and market them actively so that there is a natural momentum for customers" to move to new payment products.
The SEPA system is set to become operational as of 28 January 2008 and should be completed by 2010.
Visa Europe, one of the main payment service providers in the EU, says its systems are already in line with the new schemes. However, it argues that remaining uncertainty over interchange fees could undermine the SEPA project. In its December ruling on MasterCard (EurActiv 20/12/07), the Commission set out various criteria for interchange fees, but some argue that these are not enough to provide the necessary legal certainty.
Visa Europe CEO Peter Ayliffe said that talks with the Commission were ongoing, but warned that there was "a risk the longer it goes on". Nevertheless, Ayliffe was optimistic about Visa's ability to meet the Commission's requirements and said he would take a "collaborative approach".
Meanwhile, public authorities also have a crucial role to play in achieving the full changeover to SEPA payments. "Public authorities, as heavy users of payment instruments, can make a big contribution to helping kick-start migration to the new SEPA payment products," McCreevy said on 22 January.
All 27 member states are to implement the Payment Services Directive (PSD), which sets out a legal basis for SEPA, by November this year.