Paris (AFP)

And if Europeans could pay without going through the American Visa, Mastercard or another foreign giant of tech? Twenty European banks, backed by the ECB, are working behind the scenes on this topic, which has become strategic with the rise of political and commercial tensions.

Sheltered behind a code name in the shape of a joke, "PEPSI" - for Pan European Payment System Initiative - these banking institutions, among the most powerful in Europe, have been thinking for some months about the creation of a purely European payment system. , confirmed to AFP four sources involved in this project.

Carlo Bovero, Head of World Cards and Retail Payments at BNP Paribas, spoke about the initiative Tuesday at a conference organized by Revue Banque, evoking "a very serious project" between banks "which represent a large part of Europe ".

Sign of the sensitivity of the case, none of the banking groups solicited by the AFP wished to speak officially on the issue. Nevertheless, according to various sources, only banks from the euro zone countries (Italy, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, Spain) are involved in the initiative, including a large part of French banks as well as Deutsche Bank in Germany.

The goal? Develop a standard based on instant payment capable of managing all dematerialized forms of payment, either by card, transfer, direct debit or mobile. PEPSI targets big, at least 60% of electronic payments in Europe.

At the origin of this initiative, "positive injunctions, running in 2017, from the ECB which, worried about the sovereignty of payments, explained that it would look favorably on the subject," entrusts to AFP on condition of anonymity a French banking source close to the file.

- Dependence on Americans -

"The sovereignty of payments in Europe does not exist," said the French banker recalling the stranglehold of Visa and Mastercard in Europe: "These international networks of cards or initiatives of large Chinese payment companies exist, are organized while in Europe, we are not.

Some observers are worried about the growing influence of Chinese networks Alipay, UnionPay and WeChat Pay, which see Europe as a green garden to take root internationally.

"It is also enough that an upset American president makes the decision to cut the payments and there, we will see our dependence," ignites another banker interviewed by AFP.

In 2010, the payment companies Visa, Mastercard, Paypal and Western Union had boycotted Julien Assange's Wikileaks website, after the publication of classified American diplomatic documents, leading to its financial asphyxiation.

After the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, Visa and Mastercard had temporarily cut off their services to Russian banks because of US sanctions. Since then, Moscow has developed its own payment system.

European banks are not at their first attempt. An almost similar initiative, the Monnet project, had been launched in 2012 but failed. They had come up against economic uncertainties and the reluctance of the European Commission, hostile to any move likely to cut off free competition.

The banking sector is hoping better this time. "We can not say + we must open the field of play + and at the same time force the banks to remain national," says a French supervisor.

"Banks are ready to invest, they do not have a short-term vision, but we must offer them a perspective of recovery of their long-term investment for a viable business model", argues an expert from the banking sector involved in PEPSI .

At this stage, the cost of the project is estimated at a few billion euros, with the envisaged change of at least 400 million cards in Europe and technological migrations.

In December, European banks should arbitrate if they pursue the initiative, reported informally to the governments concerned. At the ECB and Brussels, a feasibility study is underway.

cgu-BT-JPL-burs / st / pn / nth

© 2019 AFP