The Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) is a project designed to extend the European integration to non-cash euro retail payments by eliminating the distinction between domestic and cross-border payments within the euro area. The SEPA takes its origin from an initiative by the European banking association. In particular, the "SEPA vision" was set out in a White Paper entitled, "Euroland: Our Single Payments Area!" distributed in May 2002 to the participants in a workshop on this issue. The workshop took place in Brussels between 25 and 26 March 2002 and was attended by 42 banks, the Euro Banking Association and the three European Credit Sector Associations (ECSAs), namely the EACB, EBF and ESBG, representing all geographic areas and all types of institutions. The European Payments Council (EPC), a self-regulatory payments body, was entrusted to realise the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA). The project started after the cash changeover to the single currency in 2002, as it was considered a further step in the achievement of the monetary union. The European Central Bank (ECB) and the Commission actively support and promote the creation of a harmonised market, among others EU institutions. At national level, the SEPA project management entails a coordinated approach involving institutions (Central Banks, Public Administrations,...) and all stakeholders (banking sector, payment service provides, users, ...). The SEPA encompasses 31 European countries: the 16 EU members that have adopted the euro as the national currency (Austria, Belgium, France, Finland, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Slovakia, Cyprus and Malta); the 11 countries that have not yet adopted the euro as the national currency, but that make payments in euro (Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Monaco, the United Kingdom, Sweden); the remaining 4 countries also included are Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
The specific goal of the SEPA framework was defined in the Lisbon Agenda, that is to say, the full integration of euro payments markets that results in greater efficiency and competition in the euro area payments services sector to the benefit of customers. The strategy for the fulfilment of this goal was based on the implementation of different "schemes" for the introduction of the SEPA payment instruments, as defined by the EPC Roadmap 2004-2010 approved in December 2004. A different framework, the PEACH, was adopted to define the SEPA infrastructures. The first phase according to the EPC timeline consisted in the scheme design and preparation stage. The second phase concluded in 2007 regarded the implementation and deployment. Finally, from 2007 to 2010, the EPC was defined as a transitional period with the coexistence of national and pan-European schemes and the gradual adoption of the latter. In each stage, there were a number of agents playing an active role for the fulfilment of the SEPA program, which carried out different activities such as programme management, lobbying, monitoring and support. Central National Banks, the National Migration Committee, national banks, their associations and the regulators are particularly involved in the implementation of the SEPA project
The SEPA has been officially launched on 28 January 2008; since then, SEPA credit transfers and SEPA payment cards have been made available. Since November 2009, the SEPA direct debit under the SEPA Direct Debit Scheme is also available. This launch date coincides with the deadline for the Payment Service Directive (PSD) adoption in all EU member states’ legal systems. These have been the preliminary steps torwards the completion of the migration of a critical mass of different payment instruments, with the target date of 2010. The migration implies the replacement of national payment products and standards with the corresponding SEPA products.
European Payment Council (2009), Making SEPA a Reality – the definitive Guide to the Single Euro Payments Area, EPC publications, September 2009
European Payment Council (2004), EPC Roadmap 2004-2010, EPC publications, December 2005
Editor: Bianca GIANNINI
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