The objective of the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) is to implement schemes and standards for euro payments in the future. For reasons of efficiency, it is not practical to have national schemes and the SEPA schemes operating in parallel over the long term. This is also consistent with the long-term aim of SEPA, namely to abolish existing national payment schemes.
In December 2009, the European Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) instructed the European Commission to assess the framework for establishing migration end-dates for SEPA instruments and, if necessary, introduce appropriate legislation. In March 2010, the European Parliament called upon the Commission again to set a clear, practical and binding deadline for the migration to SEPA instruments of no later than 31 December 2012. In June 2010, the Commission published a working paper for public consultation which contained the results of ECOFIN’s instruction to set end-dates for this migration.
In December 2010, the European Commission presented its "Proposal for a Regulation establishing technical requirements for credit transfers and direct debits in euros and amending Regulation (EC) No 924/2009" (SEPA Migration Regulation). Upon completing their negotiations, which went on for almost a year, the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament finally presented a significantly modified draft regulation. The "Regulation No 260/2012 establishing technical and business requirements for credit transfers and direct debits in euros (SEPA Regulation)" entered into force on 31 March 2012.
The core element of the regulation is the bindingly stipulated end-date of 1 February 2014 for the national credit transfer and direct debit schemes. In addition to the aforementioned end-date, the SEPA Regulation also allows some exceptions for the temporary continued use of certain national payment instruments and outlines proposals to ensure a user-friendly migration. With the German SEPA Accompanying Act (“SEPA-Begleitgesetz”), German legislators have exercised such individual transitional provisions of the SEPA Regulation. As a rule, the SEPA Regulation requires both the IBAN (International Bank Account Number) and the BIC (Business Identifier Code) as account identifiers. With effect from 1 February 2016, however, customers will no longer be mandatorily required to give the BIC. This rule will already apply from 1 February 2014 for national payments in Germany. In addition, payment service providers in Germany can continue to accept the conventional account identifiers (ie the bank account number and bank sort code) from their customers up to 1 February 2016. In such cases, payment service providers would be obliged to provide, free of charge, secure conversion services to IBAN.
Moreover, it is envisaged that the electronic direct debit scheme (ELV) that is widely used in Germany will be used for a transitional period up to 1 February 2016. Under the ELV scheme, payment is initiated using a payment card at the point of sale. This generates a collection authorisation which the customer then signs. The transitional period up to 1 February 2016 for niche products with a market share of less than 10% additionally permitted in the Regulation does not play a major role Germany.
Furthermore, it offers a solution to a long-standing problem for Germany, namely how to accommodate collection authorisations issued under the German direct debit scheme within the SEPA direct debit scheme. The Regulation guarantees that all pre-issued national mandates (eg in Germany: collection authorisation) will remain valid. As a companion piece of legislation it supplements the solution to mandate migration that was carried out in the form of an amendment to the general terms and conditions of the banks and savings banks as of the 9 July 2012.
Moreover, the SEPA Regulation awards account holders additional rights that protect their payment accounts against improper direct debit transactions. A direct debit may not be executed, for example, if it exceeds a certain amount or if the beneficiary is not included on a list of recognised payees.