Most Europeans think that they will pick up the tab if the EC forces card firms to reduce interchange fees, according to a survey commissioned by MasterCard.
MasterCard and its rival Visa have been battling European authorities for years over the fees that they charge for processing card payments. In may an EU court dismissed MasterCard's challenge against a European Commission ruling that the firm's cross-border interchange fees violated competition law.
The firm has long argued that any reduction in fees will go into the pockets of retailers, without savings being passed on to consumers, and has now commissioned a survey from Hall and Partners of 21,000 people in 21 EU countries to gauge their opinions.
The research shows the prevalence of cards in Europe, with 84% of respondents saying that they use them. Of these, 83% pay with debit cards and 51% credit cards while the main reason for using plastic - cited by 63% - is convenience.
Asked who will make up the "shortfall" if the "retailers' contribution for accepting cards" is reduced, 79% think it will be them, the consumer, compared to 15% who think it will be the merchants and 14% the banks.
Meanwhile, 44% do not think that retailers will pass on any reductions to customers in the form of lower prices, compared to 32% who think they will.
If fees go up, 70% of Europeans say that they will use more cash and 63% think that they will reduce their number of cards. More than half say that they would also still use cash even if they were shown that it is more expensive than plastic.
In support of its campaign, MasterCard points to research into Spain and Australia, which have both mandated reductions in interchange fees. In both cases, investigations found that cardholder fees went up and benefits down while there was no evidence that this was offset by lower retail prices.
When asked to allocate "proportions of government focus" across banks, retailers and consumers, 46% believe that if there is legislation in the area of cards it should focus its concern more on protecting customer interests.