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EU’s Almunia Will ‘Take Steps’ on Visa Antitrust Probe

European Union Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said he would deepen an antitrust investigation into Visa Europe Ltd.’s cross-border credit-card and deferred-debit transaction fees.

“I will take steps in the next few weeks to move forward with our ongoing investigation of Visa,” Almunia told the European Parliament in Brussels.

Almunia said last year he planned to send the company a formal antitrust complaint. Visa Europe, operator of the largest payment-card network in the 27-nation EU, reduced similar fees for debit cards last year to settle a 2009 EU complaint.

Payment transaction fees paid by retailers are “still too high and too unequal” across the 27-nation bloc, Almunia said last month. Regulators won backing from an EU court in May, which confirmed their ruling that MasterCard Inc. unfairly inflated fees payments made outside a user’s home country.

Visa Europe “has consistently said that it would like to reach a commercially acceptable agreement on an appropriate methodology for setting credit and deferred-debit interchange in the interests of all stakeholders in the payments industry,” Amanda Kamin, a spokeswoman for Visa Europe in London, said in an e-mail.

Almunia said he wanted to explore “a solution that would provide legal certainty” to the entire payments cards industry and didn’t exclude regulation for card fees. Any rules for the payment industry would need to be proposed by his colleague, EU Financial Services Commissioner Michel Barnier, he said.

The so-called interchange fee, based on Visa’s guidelines, is paid by the retailer’s bank to the bank that issued the customer’s card.

Visa Europe split from Visa Inc. before the U.S. card company’s initial public offering in early 2008.

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