The European Commission and European Central bank have hosted the first meeting of the Sepa Council, a new body created to guide the future development of the Single Euro Payments Area project.
The meeting brought together top-level representatives from both the demand and supply sides of the European payments market.
Participants from the demand side included consumers, retailers, businesses/corporates, small and medium-sized companies, and national public administrations. Supply side representation comes from the European Payments Council (EPC), co-operative banks, saving banks, commercial banks, and payment institutions. In addition, four national central bank board members represent the Eurosystem.
The establishment of the new body follows strong criticism of the Sepa governance structure and the lack of consultation with end-users. At the EBAday meeting in Luxembourg earlier this month, banks too expressed their concerns about the expense of the project, its sluggish returns and the failure of national governments to support the scheme.
Internal market commissioner Michel Barnier describes the formation of the Council as "a crucial step forwards" in the realisation of an integrated market for payments in euro.
"To achieve the full potential of Sepa, we clearly need to improve user involvement in this project, both from early design to final implementation," he says. "I very much hope that this new Council will act as a catalyst to create a retail payment framework fully meeting the expectations of all actors."
The main issues discussed at the first meeting were the need and conditions to establish migration end-dates for Sepa and the future of a Sepa for payment cards.
The Council will meet twice a year for an initial period of three years, say the ECB and the Commission, who will monitor and evaluate its progress over time.
Gertrude Tumpel-Gugerell, ECB executive board member, says the Council will not displace the bank-backed co-ordinating body, the EPC.
"We need to recognise the importance of user involvement for the success of Sepa," she says. "The Sepa Council aims at bringing together, at the highest level, the demand and supply sides of the European payments market, without, however, replacing any of the existing bodies, such as the European Payments Council."