Why the slow progress? And what does it mean for the future? Well, I was invited along to a meeting of experts to discuss the progress towards SEPA and eSEPA (SEPA for the internet and mobile payments), but unfortunately I've been told by the Commission that the discussions were confidential and so I can't comment on them here.
I can make a general point, though. This stuff isn't academic: pan-European standardisation would have real benefits to consumers and businesses, and would reduce the cost of payments. Here's an example of the kind of standardisation that is need to make payments more cost-effective on a pan-European basis. In SEPA bank accounts, are identified by an International Bank Account Number (IBAN). the replacement for the different national bank account numbering schemes, a straightforward standardisation and simplification.
The logic behind the IBAN (International Bank Account Number) is actually very straightforward. In Germany it is comprised of 22 characters, starting with the country code (DE). This is followed by a two-number check digit, which validates the account number and sort code before the payment is carried out.[From DB Research –]
A triumph for European standardisation. So we'll all be switching to IBANs of the form CC-XX-123456789012345678 then? Of course not! Our good friends at Innopay note that that in their home country, this will mean that bank account numbers will now be twice as long, but…
The length of an IBAN differs for each country. In The Netherlands, for example each IBAN will have a length of exactly 18 positions. What?!. Yes, “Europe” has decided that a bank account will have twice as many digits. How can such a system be as easy and efficient as currently available national payment instruments? The Dutch are better off than most. In Germany each IBAN bank account will have 22 digits, in France 27 while Malta tops the list with 31![From Innopay – Payment Consultants – home]
Oh, wait… I've just checked my Barclays statement and this shows an IBAN of GB-XX-12345678901234 (ie, 14 digits). If we can't even achieve a standard bank account number, how on Earth are we going to have standard, Europe-wide internet or mobile payments?
These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]