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European Commission - Press release
Antitrust: Commission opens investigation in e-payment market
Brussels, 26 September 2011 - The European Commission has opened an antitrust investigation into the standardisation process for payments over the internet ('e-payments') undertaken by the European Payments Council (EPC). The EPC is the coordination and decision-making body of the European banking industry for payments. The Commission will undertake a careful examination of the standardisation process to ensure that competition is not unduly restricted, for example through the exclusion of new entrants and payment providers who are not controlled by a bank. Excluding competitors in the online payments market could result in higher prices for web merchants and ultimately consumers. The opening of proceedings does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation. It means the Commission treats the case as a matter of priority and will gather the necessary information to take a final position.
Joaquín Almunia Commission, Vice President in charge of Competition Policy, said: "Use of the internet is increasing rapidly making the need for secure and efficient online payment solutions in the whole Single Euro Payments Area all the more pressing. I therefore welcome the work of the European Payments Council to develop standards in this area. 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 European Payments Council (EPC) supports and promotes the creation of an integrated payments market through its self regulatory project the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA). The European Commission endorses the SEPA project as it is crucial for consumers, retailers and companies to enjoy the full benefits of the Single Market and in principle welcomes the development of standards for e-payments.
The Commission recognises the importance of standardisation in terms of promoting economic integration, which results in greater efficiencies and better prices and services for the consumer. The EU Guidelines on horizontal agreements adopted in 2010 set out clearly the kinds of agreements that do not raise competition concerns and the way that the Commission analyses standardisation agreements and procedures under EU competition rules (see IP/10/1702 and MEMO/10/676).
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. Such restrictions, if established, could harm merchants and consumers in the market of e-payments. This could breach EU rules on restrictive business practices - Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and Article 53 of the European Economic Area (EEA) Agreement. The Commission has received a complaint which will form part of this investigation.
Background on antitrust investigations
Article 101 of the TFEU prohibits anticompetitive agreements and decisions of associations of undertakings. The implementation of this provision is defined in the EU's Antitrust Regulation (Council Regulation No 1/2003), which can also be applied by national competition authorities.
By initiating proceedings, the Commission relieves national competition authorities of their authority to apply the EU rules in this area. National courts must also refrain from making decisions, which could conflict with a Commission decision.
The Commission has informed the parties and the national competition authorities that it has opened proceedings in this case.
The initiation of proceedings does not imply that the Commission has made a definitive finding of an infringement but means that the Commission will deal with the case as a matter of priority.
There is no legal deadline to complete antitrust investigations. The duration depends on a number of substantial and procedural factors.