Internal Market Commissioner McCreevy has warned member states that they will face enforcement consequences if financial services legislation is not promptly transposed.
Single European Payments Area (SEPA)
SEPA is an idea, devised by banks themselves through their European Payments Council, to treat all payment transactions throughout the eurozone in the same way as domestic payments. It has the full backing of the Commission which is paving the way by means of a new legal structure under the New Legal Framework for Payments directive (see Linksdossier). (NB: this directive will apply throughout the EU – not just the eurozone.)
The scheme has two phases: (i) direct debit and credit transfer to be available across the EU by 2008 and (ii) new pan-European debit cards to replace domestic payment card schemes by 2010.
One area of disagreement among speakers at the conference was on whether SEPA would truly result in lower costs for consumers and whether it would prove to be worth the huge investment required by industry. The second point of doubt was as to whether the time limits set were realistic.
The idea of the “26th Regime” was first mooted as a general scheme which would provide financial products across Europe. It would be optional and would work outside existing member state legislation. It is currently most talked of in connection with pensions and Mr Henri de Castries, of AXA, gave a forceful argument for why it was essential for the increasing number of people whose careers span several member states.
For the Commission, both David Wright, Director of financial services in DG Internal Market and Commissioner McCreevy said that they would not discount the idea but that there were myriad problems to be solved, particularly on the standard of consumer protection for such products.
Commissioner for the Regions, Danita Hübner outlined the high importance of the availability of credit for SMEs and “micro-companies”, which, she noted, together count for 99% of EU companies. But these firms, subject to high risk and requiring extra financial advice, have trouble obtaining loans from mainstream sources. In some member states micro-credit is provided by specialised companies.
The Commission, therefore, together with the European Investment Bank, is promoting micro credit on a regional level through its JEREMIE (Joint European Resources for Micro to Medium Enterprises) initiative. This will facilitate grants and loans to SMEs and will be fully operational by 2007. Ms Hübner also stated that she would consider carefully the idea of a European action plan for micro-credit, which had received much backing earlier in the conference.