Europe Probes Banks For E-Payments Monopoly

The European Commission has opened an anti-trust inquiry in to whether a group of banks has conspired to prevent new online payment facilitators entering the market.

It is investigating whether the market is being restricted by a process of electronic standardisation operated by the European Payments Council (EPC), a self-regulation body comprising 74 members including the major-name banks.

“Excluding competitors in the online payments market could result in higher prices for web merchants and ultimately consumers,” the EC warns. EC competition VP Joaquín Almunia: “In principle, standards promote inter-operability and competition, but we need to ensure that the standardisation process does not unnecessarily restrict opportunities for non-participants.”

The EPC might scratch its head at the investigation. It was established in 2002 at the behest of the European Commission, European governments and the European Central Bank precisely to harmonise payment systems for the new euro currency, in line with the EU’s Single Euro Payments Area idea, which it devised in 2000 to kickstart the continental economy.

“The commission intends to investigate whether the e-payments standardisation process will not unduly restrict competition, for example through the exclusion of new entrants and payment providers who are not linked to a bank,” the commission announced.

“Such restrictions, if established, could harm merchants and consumers in the market of e-payments. This could breach EU rules on restrictive business practices… The commission has received a complaint which will form part of this investigation.”