"Today a harmonised framework is available for credit transfers with common standards," a statement from the Commission said. Frameworks for direct debits, due to come into force by 2 November 2009, and SEPA cards were also announced.
In the past, consumers and SMEs have expressed reservations about SEPA, fearing that transaction fees would unfairly penalise both groups. Multilateral Interchange Fees (MIFs), fees charged to the receiving bank often passed down to the consumer or client, have come under scrutiny by the Commission and by EuroCommerce, a retail sector lobby group.
The retailers' lobby initiated competition cases against the card industry's "anti-competitive prices" and argued that MIFs prevented new players from entering the market at a lower cost. The Commission also challenged the legality of MIFs imposed by Visa (EurActiv 27/03/08) and Mastercard (EurActiv 04/03/08) on international card transactions, based on the argument that consumers were being unfairly penalised.
The Commission insists that the new regulation on cross-border payments will "extend the principle of equal charges for national and cross-border payments to direct debits". It is due to come into force on 1 November 2009.
Regarding MIFs, EuroCommerce Seceratry-General Xavier Durieu wants SEPA discussions to involve all stakeholders, including end-users who could likely incur such fees.
"We very much hope that the EU SEPA Council, proposed in the communication, and the increased – but still insufficient – involvement of stakeholders in the discussions will help SEPA to improve today's very worrying situation," Durieu said in a statement welcoming the Commission's roadmap.
The EU executive appears to have taken note of the need to balance the interests of different stakeholders as it says that improved governance at the European Payments Council is needed to monitor the project. "Greater transparency and early involvement of all stakeholders in the planning of future initiatives need to be ensured."