The European Commission said on April 9 that it opened formal anti-trust proceedings against MasterCard over concerns that some of the inter-bank fees charged by the company and related practices may be anti-competitive.
This is the second anti-trust investigation against the payments company in Europe – in 2007, the EC banned MasterCard from charging cross-border inter-bank fees in the European Economic Area (the 27 European Union member states plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein). A similar investigation against Visa Europe is currently underway as well.
The current investigation against MasterCard is targeting payments made by non-EEA citizens inside the bloc, such as a US tourist shopping in Europe, the EC said in a statement. The investigation would also examine MasterCard’s rules that prevent merchants from benefiting from better terms offered by other banks in the EU internal market and rules that force merchants to accept all types of MasterCard’s cards, even if some incur higher charges.
“The inter-bank fees are generally passed on to the merchants, leading to higher overall fees for them. Ultimately, such behaviour is liable to slow down cross-border business and harm EU consumers,” the Commission said.
The issue was a priority because payment cards accounted for 40 per cent of non-cash payments in the EU every year and were of crucial importance for cross-border purchases or online shopping, the Commission said.
“In addition to its anti-trust enforcement action, the Commission intends to propose before the summer a regulation on inter-bank fees for card payments that will ensure legal certainty and a durable level playing field across the EU for all providers,” the EC said.