The Commission has decided that MasterCard's multilateral interchange fees for cross-border payment card transactions with MasterCard and Maestro branded debit and consumer credit cards in the European Economic Area violate EC Treaty rules on restrictive business practices (Article 81). The Commission concluded that MasterCard's MIF inflated the cost of card acceptance by retailers without leading to proven efficiencies.
MasterCard has six months to comply with the Commission's order to withdraw the fees. If MasterCard fails to comply, the Commission may impose daily penalty payments of 3.5% of its daily global turnover in the preceding business year. MIF are not illegal as such. However, a MIF in an open payment card scheme such as MasterCard's is only compatible with EU competition rules if it contributes to technical and economic progress and benefits consumers. In the EU, over 23 billion payments, exceeding a value of €1350 billion, are made every year with payment cards.
Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said: "Multilateral interchange fee agreements such as MasterCard's inflate the cost of card acceptance by retailers. The Commission will accept these fees only where they are clearly fostering innovation to the benefit of all users."
The Commission prohibited MasterCard's MIF because it inflates the base on which acquiring banks charge prices to merchants for accepting payment cards, as the MIF accounts for a large part of the final price businesses pay for accepting MasterCard's payment cards. This restriction of price competition harms businesses and their customers.
MasterCard presented its MIF as an instrument to "maximise system output". However, during four years of investigation MasterCard failed to submit the required empirical evidence to demonstrate any positive effects on innovation and efficiency which would allow passing on a fair share of the MIF benefits to consumers. The Commission therefore concluded that MasterCard's MIF does not lead to objective efficiencies that could balance the negative effects on price competition between its member banks.
Remarks Commissioner Kroes
© Graham Bishop
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