Biba chief executive Eric Galbraith has hit out at the European Union antitrust probe, calling it "bizarre, expensive and unnecessary."

EU antitrust regulators will investigate competition issues across the gas and electricity, retail banking and business insurance markets.

"We already have an extremely competitive business insurance market in the UK dominated by independent brokers," Galbraith said.

He added that it made far more sense for the probe to focus solely on Europe, where tied agents restrict choice.

"They might also want to focus on issues surrounding the Insurance Mediation Directive, which has still not been implemented by some 50% of EU countries." he said.

The probe will start with retail banking, in particular payment cards. Other areas of retail banking and business insurance will be investigated later in 2005.

The commission is due to report the main results of the financial industry investigation in 2006 or later.