Michel Barnier, the European commissioner for the internal market and services, will on Wednesday (8 May) launch plans to give every individual in the European Union the right to a basic bank account.
The proposals also aim to make it easier for customers to switch from one bank account to another, and to force banks to be more transparent about the fees they charge, so that consumers can make better comparisons between different providers.
Barnier's attempt to introduce legislation – which must be agreed by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers before it can become law – comes almost two years after he issued an official recommendation to member states that they should enable all individuals to have access to affordable accounts that allow them to receive, deposit, transfer and withdraw funds and facilitate direct debits.
The failure of member states to take significant action since the recommendations in July 2011 has prompted Barnier to take further action, in what will be a joint proposal with Tonio Borg, the European commissioner for health and consumer policy.
They will say that it is “essential” for every EU citizen to have the right to a basic bank account so that everyone can benefit from the single market. It is estimated that around 56 million people in the EU above the age of 15 do not have a bank account, making it difficult for them to pay energy bills, receive benefits or to shop online.
The draft will propose that national governments ensure that at least one account with basic services exists in their country and is available to people irrespective of where they live in the EU and no matter what their financial situation. Account holders would have a right to a debit card but not to overdraft facilities.
As part of the plan to make it easier for people to switch accounts between banks, the Commission will urge a time-limit for the process of 15 days, or 30 days if the banks are based in different countries. Discussions at a senior level within the Commission have not yet been concluded and it is not clear whether Barnier and Borg will say that this service would have to be provided free.
Johannes Kleis, a spokesman for Beuc, the European consumer organisation, said that legislative proposals to give people the right to a bank account and to make retail banking more transparent were “urgently needed”. He said that consumers were left “disappointed” that recommendations issued in 2011 were not legally binding. “We've been waiting for this for quite some time,” he said.