Citing political sources, business daily Handelsblatt reported that the government was considering drafting a law to set maximum fees because it was growing tired of banks' dithering over setting standard fees themselves. The opposition would support such an approach, the paper said.
The country's savings banks, credit unions and private banks are supposed to present an agreement to reduce exorbitant cash machine fees by August 31, but appear unlikely to come up with a solution on their own.
The watchdog has for months been reviewing cash machine withdrawal fees, which average €5.64 but sometimes reach up to €10 in Germany, even though experts estimate each transaction costs the bank only €0.63. These fees are high compared with other countries, particularly for customers using an ATM belonging to another bank with whom their own bank does not have a partnership.
In July the Federal Cartel Office formally rejected a €5 fee limit by the leading banking association, the ZKA, telling them the amount was still too high.
The threat to legislate represents a forceful shot across the banking industry's bow. Sources told Handelsblatt that federal Consumer Minister Ilse Aigner's patience with the banks had all but run out.
The opposition Social Democrats are also in favour of an ultimatum to the banks.
“Fees on withdrawals from other banks' ATMs of €5 to €10 are not acceptable for customers,” Carsten Sieling, the deputy parliamentary leader for the left wing of the party, told Handelsblatt.
Fees needed to be standardized and lowered, “whether by self-regulation or, if necessary, by law,” Sieling added.