PRESS RELEASE

Towards a single euro payments area - progress report

26 June 2003

Since 1 July 2002 EU banks have been obliged by a Regulation of the European Parliament and the EU Council to charge the same fees for cross-border and national card payments in euro [Regulation (EC) No 2560/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 December 2001 on cross-border payments in euro.]. As of 1 July 2003, the same principle of equal charges for national and cross-border payments will apply to credit transfers. For cross-border transfers, this may imply lower charges. To benefit, a credit transfer must meet certain criteria: the amount must be not higher than €12,500.00 and the order must carry the beneficiary’s International Bank Account Number (IBAN) and the Bank Identifier Code (BIC) of the receiving bank. For payment orders that do not meet these conditions, banks may charge additional fees.

For bank customers, the Regulation is a step closer to a Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA). However, they can only reap the benefits if they use the IBAN and the BIC. The move to these well-established international standards has to be made by all participants and stakeholders in the payments cycle (private and corporate bank customers, payment system operators and the banks themselves).

While, from a customer perspective, a SEPA is in reach, the banking sector still has considerable work to do to build the infrastructure necessary to supply Regulation-compliant services cost-efficiently. Banks are now developing and implementing their vision for a modern payment infrastructure that will respond to the needs of euro area customers and at the same time benefit from technological innovation.

The ECB today publishes a report entitled "Towards a Single Euro Payments Area – progress report" which reviews these recent developments. With its White Paper "Euroland: Our Single Payment Area!" (May 2002), the European banking sector has formulated its strategy to create a SEPA within which there is no difference between the levels of service for national and cross-border retail payments by 2010. The Eurosystem welcomes the fact that banks have stepped up their efforts to achieve this goal. The governance structure for their central decision-making body, the European Payments Council (http://www.europeanpaymentscouncil.org/), is in place. First results of the work are already visible: the banks have agreed on a preferred infrastructure for the processing of cross-border retail payments in euro and have adopted conventions for basic cross-border credit transfer services. In several areas, however, the milestones along the road to a SEPA still require more precise specification. The implementation of standards for cross-border payments lags behind banks’ own commitments. The Eurosystem will closely monitor banks’ progress towards a SEPA. It plans to measure progress on the basis of specific indicators, on which it urges the banks to continuously report.

The Eurosystem supports the industry’s work towards a SEPA with its policies. Its role at present is one of a catalyst for change, an active observer of the banking sector’s work. Should the banking industry be unable to make sufficient progress towards a SEPA, however, the Eurosystem may step up its involvement, using its regulatory tools more actively.

The report entitled "Towards a Single Euro Payments Area – progress report" (published today in English) will be available in all official Community languages in due course.

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