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FINANCIAL SERVICES : BASIC BANK ACCOUNTS: PARLIAMENT CALLS FOR REGULATION.

After ten years of debates in the European Parliament, a consensus seems to have been reached on access to basic bank accounts in spite of the battle of competence between the EP's Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) and the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO). Members of the IMCO committee said they were disappointed about being "dispossessed" of this dossier, on 20 March, during the examination of Evelyne Gebhardt's (S&D, Germany) report, but their discussions converged with the position of their ECON colleagues regarding the necessity of EU legislation that will force the member states to act to allow the 30 million Europeans who are over 18 and do not have a basic bank account to open one. As Mario Monti said in his 2010 report on the internal market, it is essential for the mobility and for access to such a vast market as is the EU.

The rapporteur stressed that this right should be written in stone, since self-legislation via recommendations made to member states has shown its limits - something which Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier had said the previous day (see Europolitics 4388). Some European citizens do not have a bank account either because their banks refuse to open one on the grounds that their income is too low, or because their main residence is in another member state (students, for instance), or because their banks force them to take on other costly services, such as insurances. The report states that the basic account must fulfil the following criteria: the bank account can be opened without prior conditions of residence; access must be granted to payment services, to services to manage the account and, potentially, to services to withdraw money through pre-paid bank cards without an overdraft facility; and there should be no forced subscription to other services provided by the bank. Some MEPs feel that this basic account should be free, while the Commission mentions a "reasonable cost". Therefore, some MEPs want to specify that this cost should not exceed the price of the services offered. Online access to this account cannot be the only means of carrying out operations as this would exclude the most deprived or the youngest who do not yet have access to the internet. Changing banks must be possible without incurring any fees and while guaranteeing data protection. The persons concerned should be legal residents in the EU. The banks that provide these accounts must be allowed to refuse access if they can prove that the accounts could be used for illegal activities.

Emilie Turunen (Greens-EFA, Denmark) added that it is important to establish which banks will have to provide this kind of accounts: Turunen recommends retail banks. Hans-Peter Mayer (EPP, Germany) suggested that Parliament should come up with a legislative initiative about basic bank accounts, taking a consumer's approach. He was backed by Gebhardt.

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Publication:European Report
Date:Mar 21, 2012
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