MasterCard in final battle to overturn EU ban on card fees

BRUSSELS Wed Jun 5, 2013 1:58pm EDT

A MasterCard logo is seen on a door outside a restaurant in New York, February 3, 2010. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

A MasterCard logo is seen on a door outside a restaurant in New York, February 3, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - MasterCard (MA.N) will make a final attempt to overturn an EU ban on cross-border card fees in a hearing at Europe's highest court next month, in a case with repercussions for the financial industry and global card payment systems.

The case involves so-called multilateral interchange fees (MIFs) set by MasterCard, Visa and other credit and debit card firms and which are paid by retailers to banks that issue the cards.

In 2007, the European Commission determined that such fees for cards issued in Europe were a violation of EU competition rules on fair competition and that they ultimately jacked up costs for consumers and merchants. Europe's lower court upheld the regulatory decision in May last year.

MasterCard has appealed and Europe's top court, the European Court of Justice, will hold a hearing into the appeal on July 4, the court said on its website on Wednesday.

The court does not set a date for a ruling and it could take several months or more than a year for the judges to reach a decision. If they rule against MasterCard, the company would have no further recourse to appeal.

The case is important because MIFs are a major source of revenue for credit card companies. If the court rules they are illegal, it could have a wide impact on card payment systems and on how charges are imposed on consumers and retailers.

European consumers and companies make more than 40 percent of their non-cash payments by card each year, a figure set to rise steadily as checks and money transfers die out.

Limiting the fees credit and debit card companies charge has therefore become a high-profile consumer campaign issue for policymakers, while also attracting the attention of regulators.

Following the Commission's 2007 decision, MasterCard decided to cap its debit card fees at 0.2 percent and credit card fees at 0.3 percent, while also appealing against the decision to the lower court.

Payment cards companies say merchants benefit from higher sales made by cardholders than those paying cash.

In a separate case, the European Commission in April launched an investigation into the inter-bank fees MasterCard charges foreign tourists in the 27-country European Union, saying such charges could hamper cross-border trade.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Pravin Char)

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