EC U-turn on Sepa direct debits

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BRUSSELS & FRANKFURT – The European Commission (EC) and European Central Bank (ECB) are calling on banks to accelerate plans for crossborder direct debit schemes, whether or not interchange fees are charged for the payments.

The EC’s move may be viewed as a reaction to the banking sector’s sluggish implementation of harmonised crossborder payments within the Single Euro Payments Area (Sepa), under the delayed Payment Services Directive (PSD).

The EC and ECB said in a September 4 joint statement that they have indicated to the European Payments Council (EPC) that they were prepared to support multilateral interchange charges, provided fees are “objectively justified and transitional”.

“A European solution has to be found by the banks which is also agreeable to the competition authorities,” said Gertrude Tumpel-Gugerell, Frankfurt-based ECB executive board member. “But Sepa direct debits have to be rolled out in a little more than one-year from now.”

“In this respect, the idea of maintaining at national level the same interchange fee for national legacy and Sepa schemes during a limited transitional phase should facilitate the rolling out of the Sepa direct debit scheme,” said Tumpel-Gugerell. “This would also ensure the necessary level playing-field in the national context for the Sepa direct debit scheme and the national legacy direct debit schemes.”

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