Account as fundamental European right
On May 8, 2013, the European Commission proposed a draft directive that is to enable every EU citizen to make cashless payments, by setting up a bank account. According to a current study, within the Member States of the EU around 58 million residents above 15 years of age do not have their own bank account, in spite of the fact that cashless payments are continually increasing in significance.
The planned regulation under the directive was preceded by a Commission initiative for the self-regulation of the sector in 2011. However, no satisfactory voluntary agreement was reached among the credit institutes of the EU with regard to a mutual framework for a basic account.
The proposed directive now prescribes that every consumer in every country within the Union can open a current account, even if he or she is not resident within the country of the provider. It would then be the duty of the Member States to ensure that at least one provider per State offers such an account. The financial situation of the customer cannot represent grounds for refusal on the part of the institute. However, the institute is not required to issue the customer with an overdraft facility. The functions of the basic account are limited to the ability to make transfers and withdrawals, as well as the use of a debit card.
Alongside this, the institutes are to be obliged to present fees in a standardized format. This transparency should facilitate the consumer in selecting an account and changing account. The right to change account is also addressed in the draft. According to the draft, it should be possible to change account - incidentally without occurring fees - within 15 days within the same country, with a change of providers across country borders possible within 30 days.
Internal Market Commissioner, Michel Barnier, clarified the proposed directive as follows: "Nowadays anyone without a bank account with basic functions will come into difficulties in everyday life and will have to pay more. The current proposal finally affords all European citizens the right of access to a basic account, so that they can participate fully in the society in which they live and enjoy the benefits of the internal market. The proposal will also benefit the financial services sector, as additional stimuli for cross-border product offers and the tapping of new markets will be created." In addition, the Commission hopes to increase cross-border competition and thus lower fees for the consumer.