Visa International's strained relationship with the European Commission took an interesting turn this week.

The commission, which investigated Visa earlier this year for possible antitrust violations, selected the bank card association to provide corporate cards for its employees.

The corporate card contract is a symbolic achievement for Visa, as it wrested the business away from market leader American Express Co., which had provided commercial card services to the European Commission for two years.

"Given the turbulent nature of Visa's relationship with the commission, it is quite a nice way of ending the year," said Visa spokesman Peter Halliday.

The European Commission began investigating Visa after American Express suggested that the association planned to adopt a rule which would prevent its European members from issuing American Express cards.

The investigation was halted in July, when Visa said its European board would not adopt such a rule.

Now a consortium of Belgian Visa member banks known as BCC - for Bank Card Company - will issue some 5,000 corporate cards for the commission.

Mr. Halliday said that Visa's large merchant network played a role in the commission's decision to drop American Express. There are three million locations in Europe where the Visa brand is accepted.

American Express does not disclose such merchant acceptance information.

Officials for the European Commission could not be reached for comment.

Visa, which previously had limited its European commercial-card efforts to small-business cards, began offering corporate and purchasing card services there in September.

In the United States, Visa commercial cards generate $13.3 billion in expenditures.

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