Visa Europe Ltd. has been charged with anticompetitive behavior by European Union regulators citing payment card fees after it failed to cut its rates as much as rival MasterCard Inc. did to settle a similar case last week.

Visa's fees prevent competition among its issuers and drive up the costs for stores accepting credit cards, the European Commission said Monday.

MasterCard, in its settlement, cut its credit card fees to 0.3% per transaction, from a range of 0.8% to 1.9% in 2007. Debit card fees were reduced to 0.2%, from at least 0.4% and in some cases more than 0.75%. The commission said the changes would save consumers $265 million a year.

Visa Europe on March 11 cut its credit card fees to an average of 0.61%, from 0.7%, and debit card transaction costs were trimmed to an average of 18 euro cents per transaction, from 28 cents.

"I'm just staggered by this," Visa Europe's chief executive Peter Ayliffe told reporters on a conference call. He called himself "disappointed" not to have reached a settlement on fees for debit cards.

Olann Kerrison, the head of analysis at the Lafferty Group research and consulting firm in London, said in an interview, "It's up to the industry to put together a more convincing argument" defending its rates. "Retailers have done a much better job so far of getting the regulators' ear."

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