Payment in kind
The European Commission has announced it has opened an antitrust investigation into the standardisation of e-payments across Europe.
This standardization is being championed by the European Payments Council (EPC) which in turn exists to promote the formation of the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA). The origins of SEPA predate even the formation of the Euro, when a bunch of European governments formally decided it would be for the greater good if it was easier to pay for stuff electronically across Europe back in 2000.
With the kind of frenetic energy and cut-throat decision making that currently defines Europe's non-response to the sovereign debt crisis, 11 years later the EC has got as far as deciding it might be an idea to look into this SEPA business a bit more closely.
While this is being packaged as an antitrust investigation, it has the feel of a rubber stamping process. A lot, but by no means all, of the big European banks are members of the EPC, but the stated concern is that members will have anti-competitive power over non-members.
"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," said Joaquín Almunia of the EC. "I therefore welcome the work of the EPC 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."
If PayPal keeps growing as quickly as it has, this all might be academic, however. The eBay subsidiary, which is not linked to an specific banks, is now processing $315 million worth of payments per day, according to TechCrunch, and is looking strong in mobile. By the time Europe gets its act together on this initiative, PayPal may have rendered the whole thing much less relevant.