By Giuseppe Fonte
ROME (Reuters) – Italy is struggling to broker a deal between payments firms, banks and retailers to cut fees on electronic transactions, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Wednesday, raising the prospect of a windfall tax on the financial sectors.
The cost of digital payments has taken centre stage in Italy, with the right-wing administration led by nationalist Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni trying to deal with complaints by retailers about the fees.
Rome wants the parties to agree to reduce fees on electronic transactions worth up to 30 euros ($32.87) for businesses with annual revenues of up to 400,000 euros.
Meloni has made clear she is ready to impose a “solidarity contribution” equivalent to 50% of the net proceeds from those transactions without a deal, which was initially supposed to come by the end of March.
The scheme being discussed would envisage zero fees on payments worth up to 10 euros, with decreasing fee cuts between 11 and 30 euros, but some financial firms are dragging their feet on such a solution, according to one of the sources.
A meeting between all involved parties is now scheduled for April 20, a second source said confirming the deal is still elusive.
The proposed windfall tax, if introduced, would hit Italian payments company Nexi, but would also affect banks that receive a portion of the fees paid by merchants.
With the highest median age in the EU, Italy is a digital laggard: card payments account for 32% of the total, below Europe’s 47%, but sharply up from 17% in 2017, data by Nexi showed.
Meloni promoted the talks to cut fees after her government in December backtracked on a proposal to cut sanctions against shopkeepers refusing to accept digital payments, following criticism from the European Commission.
Supporters of cash payments argue they save shopkeepers banking fees, while critics including Italy’s central bank say that reducing regulatory curbs on cash would fuel the black economy.
Tax evasion in Italy is estimated by the Treasury at around 90 billion euros, down from 106 billion euros of 2015.
($1 = 0.9127 euros)
(Editing by Conor Humphries)