The European Commission said Friday it had charged MasterCard with fixing the fees for retailers must pay for accepting MasterCard Inc. and Maestro branded cards, saying this limits competition between banks who use the service.
"The Commission's preliminary view is that such behavior is contrary to the EC Treaty's ban on restrictive business practices," it said in a statement.
The charge sheet was sent on June 23, it said. MasterCard will be able to respond before the Commission rules whether the company has broken EU law.
The Commission said such a ruling could end MasterCard's fees if regulators believe that any benefits of the fees are outweighed by "restrictive effects on price competition between merchant banks."
It is the second time EU regulators have accused MasterCard of breaking antitrust rules. In September 2003 they filed charges against MasterCard's cross-border interchange fees paid by merchant banks to card-issuing banks for payments made with a MasterCard or a Maestro card.
The Commission has also been pushing for a single European payment area so customers would pay the same price to make payments or transfer money to or from another country in the 12-nation euro area.
It wants to see the same fees charged for domestic and cross-border retail payments by 2010, saying this will increase trade across borders and help boost Europe's economy.
Some 45 percent of all credit or debit cards issued in the EU are MasterCard or Maestro.