UPDATE 1-EU regulator to accept Visa Europe's fee cap offer - sources
By Foo Yun Chee
BRUSSELS Feb 14 (Reuters) - The European Union's antitrust regulator will accept Visa Europe's offer to cap its credit card fees for retailers, two people familiar with the matter said, as the EU strives to cut the cost of paying with plastic and boost online commerce.
The European Commission says such fees for using credit and debit cards cost businesses across Europe 10 billion euros ($13.7 billion) a year. The charges are an important money spinner for banks.
Visa Europe, Europe's largest card payments company which is owned and operated by more than 3,000 European financial institutions, proposed last year cutting the charges levied on retailers to 0.3 percent of the value of each transaction.
The reduction ranges from 40 to 60 percent depending on the types of cards used by the consumer and other conditions.
The offer came after the European Commission told the European licensee of Visa Inc that such fees were anti-competitive and resulted in higher consumer prices, putting it at risk of a hefty fine.
"The Commission is expected to accept Visa Europe's commitments. A decision is imminent," said one of the people on Friday, declining to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.
The Commission spokesman for competition policy, Antoine Colombani, and Visa Europe declined to comment.
Lobbying group EuroCommerce, whose 1997 complaint triggered an antitrust investigation into MasterCard, said regulators should have been tougher.
"In terms of retail, yes, it is better because fees are lower for retailers, prices could be lower for consumers, but the fees could be lower," said EuroCommerce adviser Ruth Milligan.
EuroCommerce members include French supermarket chain Carrefour, Swedish retailer Ikea and Britain's Tesco.
The EU competition authority said last year that Visa Europe's proposal covered cross-border fees in Europe and domestic charges in 10 EU countries including Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Ireland and Hungary, and was valid for four years.
Visa Europe agreed to reduce its debit card charges to 0.2 percent in 2010 to end a separate antitrust investigation.
MasterCard, Europe's second-largest card payments company, capped its debit and credit card fees at 0.2 percent and 0.3 percent respectively in 2009 after coming under regulatory fire.
The Commission last year unveiled draft rules to limit card fees on retailers, which need approval from the European Parliament and EU countries before becoming law.