The creation of the Economic and Monetary Union and the introduction of Euro notes and coins have been decisive milestones in the existence of a single market in the European Union. Since its introduction in January 2002, in all countries of the Eurozone it is possible to make cash payments in the same currency with the convenience and ease with which payments in the respective national currencies were made. Nevertheless, in the field of payments not made in cash, there remains a situation of fragmentation that ultimately impedes the completion of this objective.
To contribute to easing this situation, the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) was created.
SEPA is the area in which citizens, businesses and other economic agents can make and receive payments in Euros, with the same basic conditions, rights and obligations, regardless of their location and whether or not these payments involve cross-border processes.
SEPA is a new scenario characterised by harmonisation in the form of making payments in Euros, mainly through the use of three main types of instruments: transfers, direct debits and payment cards.
Thanks to SEPA, all operations in Euros carried out between participating countries will be subjected to a set of standardised rules and conditions, thus being processed with the same ease, speed, security and efficiency with which they are currently processed within each of the national markets. This new step towards full economic and monetary integration will benefit consumers and businesses, as well as public administrations and other users, creating a scenario with a greater degree of dynamism, competition and innovation.
The territory of the SEPA zone, for the creation of a single market for payment in Euros, is comprised of 34 countries: the 28 EU member countries, as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Norway, San Marino and Switzerland.
Although the move towards the new SEPA standards has begun, and it currently exists alongside the national frameworks, the recent adoption of Regulation EC 260/2012 establishes the 1st of February 2014 as a deadline for national transfers and debits to be replaced by new SEPA instruments.
Likewise, there are other important dates for the move to SEPA, such as the 1st of February 2016 for certain niche products; and the 31st of October 2016 for those countries that participate in SEPA but which use a national currency other than the Euro.