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LONDON: The European Union on Wednesday proposed making the payments sector more competitive, giving legal backing to a digital euro, and preserving the role of cash as fewer people use coins and notes.

The package of European Commission reforms seeks to further prise open a payments market long dominated by banks and US duo Visa and Mastercard, which are now being challenged by fintechs that offer rival services using data from customers’ bank accounts.

“In practice, this proposal will lead to more innovative financial products and services for users and it will stimulate competition,” the Commission said in a statement.

EU states and the European Parliament have the final say on the package, with some changes likely.

The reforms aim to make it harder for banks to stop fintechs from opening an account with them, and give fintechs easier access to customer data and to payments infrastructure.

“We are going to clearly identify the obstacles that the fintechs should never have been encountering,” an EU official said.

Electronic payments in the EU have grown from 184.2 trillion euros ($201.7 trillion) in 2017 to 240 trillion euros in 2021, a process accelerated by COVID-19.

Protections on data would be strengthened to encourage consumers to use rival services, with redress for unauthorised transactions such as “spoofing” or fraudsters pretending to be a customer’s bank.

To reinforce the sector’s collective capacity to tackle scams, the legal basis for banks and other payment firms to share information without breaking data protection rules is also being made clearer, the EU official said.

Fintech company Klarna said traditional banks have undermined existing payments rules to lock customers into poor quality services, and that a proposal to allow banks to charge fintechs for accessing data raised concerns.

The proposal says fees for fintechs to access banking data should be “reasonable”.

“There are steps in the right direction when it comes to ensuring fair competition between market participants with a fair distribution of value and risk,” the European Banking Federation, a banking industry body, said.

The European Central Bank is due in October to decide whether to push ahead with a digital euro. The separate rules also proposed on Wednesday would make it legal tender, meaning it would have to be accepted as a form of payment.

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