Since the introduction of euro banknotes and coins on 1 January 2002, citizens of the euro area have been able to pay in cash in the same simple way that they previously paid in their national currencies in their home countries. Meanwhile, the payment services market in the European Union remained fragmented owing to differing practices, standards and legal frameworks. For this reason the European Commission intervened through the Regulation on cross-border payments in euro, which required the application of principle of equal fees at individual payment service providers for cross-border and domestic payments, and encouraged the formation of the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA).
The project of establishing the SEPA gained its final frameworks with the Regulation establishing technical and business requirements for credit transfers and direct debits in euro and the Regulation as regards the migration to Union-wide credit transfers and direct debits, which set out the mandatory completion of the migration of credit transfers and direct debits in euros. With the introduction of harmonised basic payment instruments and uniform standards for non-cash payments, since 2014 the SEPA has in practice facilitated the use of a single account and a single set of payment instruments for credit transfers and direct debits. In the SEPA environment users of payment services have the possibility of choosing the payment service provider with the most attractive offer, irrespective of country of origin. Payment service providers have the chance to operate on a level playing field, all legal, commercial and technical barriers that previously separated national markets having been eliminated.