* Card scheme's inter-bank fees to be capped at 0.3 percent
* Deal ends EU antitrust probe
* EU's Almunia hails victory for consumers
By Foo Yun Chee
BRUSSELS, Feb 26 Credit-card provider Visa Europe will cap the transaction fees it charges, the European Commission said on Wednesday, curbing an important money earner for banks behind the payment scheme.
The move ends one in a series of long-running antitrust probes by the European Commission that was triggered by retailers' gripes about the world's biggest card payments company by the volume of transactions.
It represents a victory for those retailers and the Commission, which had pushed for reduced fees on credit and debit cards, saying the annual cost to businesses across Europe was 10 billion euros ($13.7 billion).
The settlement to end the dispute means Visa Europe's inter-bank credit card fees, a cost which consumer groups say ultimately falls on the card user, will be capped at 0.3 percent - the same level as rival MasterCard.
It is a setback for Visa Europe, the European licensee of Visa Inc, owned and operated by more than 3,000 European financial institutions. It had offered to take this step last year after the EU competition authority began its investigation.
"The cap on inter-bank fees for Visa Europe's credit cards and the commitments ensuring cross-border competition are excellent news for European consumers, since the fees paid by retailers end up on their bills," said EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia.
Inter-bank fees are collected and kept by banks processing payments using cards. While the card payment companies do not benefit directly from the charge, they fear a crackdown will discourage lenders from issuing their cards.
MasterCard has said the value of cross-border card transactions is less than 5 percent of all purchases made by cardholders.
The announcement confirms Reuters' report on Feb. 14 that the European Commission would accept this concession from Visa Europe to end its probe.
The company said it would now be able to put the issue behind it.
"Visa Europe will continue to focus on developing and providing payment solutions for the benefit of consumers, rather than pursuing lengthy legal cases," Visa Europe CEO Nicolas Huss said.