MasterCard Inc. lost its final court challenge to a European Union antitrust order for it to cap fees it sets for cross-border card payments in Europe.
The EUs Court of Justice ruled that the fees had unfairly restricted competition and that MasterCard failed to show benefits of the fees to justify its system.
The judgment may spur legal proceedings against card levies across Europe, including the U.K.s stalled antitrust probe and lawsuits by retailers. EU lawmakers and governments are also discussing setting legal limits on fees.
A lower EU court correctly concluded that MasterCards fees had restrictive effects on competition, the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice said today.
MasterCard argued that consumers would lose out if it were forced to abandon the so-called interchange fees, which it says share out the costs of card payments between retailers and consumers.
EU regulators have targeted credit- and debit-card fees for more than a decade and last year started a formal probe into Purchase, New York-based MasterCards charges on foreign card payments such as when tourists go shopping in the 28-nation bloc.
Visa Europe, operator of the EUs largest payment-card network, pledged to reduce credit-card fees to end a similar antitrust investigation earlier this year.
The case determines the fate of the U.K.s competition investigation into lucrative MasterCard and Visa Europe levies for card payments within the U.K. The countrys Competition and Markets Authority is waiting for the outcome of the EU court before deciding on sending possible antitrust objections to the companies.
MasterCard faces U.K. lawsuits from retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc.s Asda and J Sainsbury Plc as well as a claim from Deutsche Bahn AG seeking compensation for unlawful interchange fees. The levies cost stores about 25 billion euros ($32.3 billion) a year, according to figures last year from EuroCommerce, a group representing European retailers.
The ruling from the EUs top court is binding and cant be appealed. MasterCard lost an earlier appeal at the EUs General Court in 2012.
The case is: C-382/12 P MasterCard and Others v. Commission.