Brussels (dpa) - The European Union opened an investigation
Tuesday to check whether MasterCard was breaching competition rules
because of fees charged for interbank transactions, the bloc's
The interbank fees are "generally passed on to the merchants," increasing costs for shopkeepers and ultimately harming EU customers, the European Commission said.
In 2007, the commission banned some of MasterCard's interbank fees on transactions being carried out within the European Economic Area. It launched a similar investigation against Visa in July.
MasterCard is now being investigated for interbank fees applied when customers from outside the area, such as visitors from the United States, make purchases within the bloc.
In addition, the commission would look into MasterCard rules that prevent merchants from accessing better conditions from banks located elsewhere in the European single market as well as practices such as obliging shopkeepers to accept all types of MasterCard products.
"These fees and practices may restrict competition," the EU's executive said.
US-based MasterCard said it plans to "fully cooperate" with the commission.
"As a global electronic payments company, MasterCard always aims to balance the interests of both consumers and retailers to ensure that each party pays its fair share of the costs for the benefits it receives," it said.
European consumers and businesses were making more than 40 per cent of their non-cash payments by card, the commission said, adding that payment cards were of crucial importance for cross-border and internet purchases.
"It's essential to prevent one or a handful of players dominating the credit and debit card market," said Monique Goyens, the director general of the European Consumer Organization BEUC. "Consumers pay the bill for such unfair practices."
"Interbank fees are of particular concern as they result in higher prices for all shoppers - including those consumers who pay with cash or do not even own a card," she said. "All ... are hit by a scheme which ultimately rewards the card company and issuing bank."
The commission said it planned to propose new rules for interbank fees for card payments in coming months, to "ensure legal certainty and a durable level playing field across the EU for all providers."
Companies found to be in breach of EU competition rules may be charged penalties of up to 10 per cent of annual turnover.
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