The single euro payments area (SEPA) harmonises the way cashless euro payments are made across Europe. It allows European consumers, businesses and public administrations to make and receive the following types of transactions under the same basic conditions
direct debit payments
This makes all cross-border electronic payments in euro as easy as domestic payments.
SEPA covers the whole of the EU. It also applies to payments in euros in other European countries: Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Monaco and San Marino.
The advantages of a single euro payments area include
- a single system for both domestic and cross-border bank transfers
- allowing cross-border transactions by direct debit, that is to charge directly an account in one country for services provided in another country
- allowing people working or studying in another SEPA country to use an existing account in their home country to receive their salary or pay bills in the new country
- ensuring cheaper, safer and faster cross-border payments and more transparent pricing thanks to the single set of payment schemes and standards
SEPA: a collaborative process
The SEPA project was launched by the European banking and payment industry represented by the European Payments Council (EPC). The EPC has designed the SEPA schemes for credit transfers and direct debits, and is developing a scheme for payment cards. It is also currently working on a new framework for mobile payments.
The European Central Bank (ECB) and the EU have also supported the SEPA process as follows.
- The ECB chairs the Euro Retail Payments Board which brings together industry, government and consumer representatives involved in the SEPA process. The board is responsible for governance and steering of the SEPA process, among other tasks.
- The EU set out the legal framework to make SEPA happen.
The payment services directive 2007/64/EC lays out the legal foundation for SEPA.
The SEPA regulation (EU) No 260/2012 sets the rules and a deadline in February 2014 (later postponed to August 2014) for euro area countries to make credit transfers and direct debits in euro under the same conditions. It also contains arrangements for euro transfers in euros in countries outside of the euro area.
Rules on charges for cross-border payments in euro
The regulation (EC) No 924/2009 on charges for cross-border payments in euro was also adopted in the context of SEPA. It requires banks to apply the same charges for domestic and cross-border electronic payment transactions in euro.
It was later amended by the SEPA regulation, which further integrates the market for payment services in euro.
The principle of equal charges both for national and cross-border payments applies to all electronically processed payments in euro, including:
- credit transfers
- direct debits
- withdrawals at cash dispensers (ATMs)
- payments by debit and credit cards
- money remittance
Countries outside the euro area may also extend the application of this regulation to their national currency. Sweden and Romania have chosen this option.
In April 2018, the Commission presented a proposal to extend the benefits introduced by regulation (EC) No 924/2009 to consumers and businesses in non-euro countries. Under this proposal, all people in the EU will be able to transfer money cross-border, in euro, at the same cost as they would pay for a domestic transaction. The new rules will also require that consumers are informed of the cost of a currency conversion before they make a payment abroad in a different currency than their home one.