European Commission pushes for single payments area

European Commission pushes for single payments area

The European Commission is consulting with business and consumers on a raft of proposals for creating a 'single European payment area', designed to make it as easy to conduct transactions across borders as within individual countries.

The Commission wants to extend recent regulations dealing with cross-border credit transfers in euro to all payments in the EU. The consultation document (creating a single payments area) invites comments by 31 January on whether existing and new EU laws are necessary and analyses what form such legislation might take.

Internal market commissioner Frits Bolkestein comments: "The EU Regulation on Cross-Border Payments in euro has made it easier and cheaper to make many types of euro payments within the internal market. But significant difficulties remain. The Commission is determined to tackle them."

The paper sets out options for ensuring that payment providers licensed in one member state can operate in the others, particularly for emerging electronic and mobile payment techniques. It also looks at ways of removing legal barriers to cross-border direct debits, which would allow people to pay for utility bills or magazine subscriptions in one member state through a direct debit set up via a bank in another.

The document also addresses the rights of users of payment systems, outlining shortcomings in information dissemination, execution, hidden fees and dispute resolution procedures that might require further action.

Other proposals include provisions for 'portable' bank account numbers, so that customers could keep their account number if they changed banks, minimum safeguards for protection against hacking, fraud and breakdowns in payment networks, and the creation of a single EU-wide phone number for reporting lost or stolen credit cards.

In some technical areas, such as evaluation of the security of payment instruments, the automation and standardisation of procedures and the interoperability of infrastructure, the Commission urges the payment industry to make progress or face legislation in the longer term.

Says Bolkestein: "A single payments area will mean lower costs for payments, an end to unnecessary delays and much greater certainty over security and legal responsibility. This is not only a matter of convenience but also crucial for the competitiveness of the EU economy."

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