Speaking to EURACTIV, Dutch state secretary for economic affairs Frank Heemskerk rejected allegations that his country was “backtracking” on liberalising its postal market, saying he was committed to the fight for a level playing field across Europe.
Frank Heemskerk is Durch state secretary for economic affairs and the minister for foreign trade.
To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here.
Commissioner McCreevy has been pointing the finger at several member states for backtracking on their liberalisation pledges. Do you feel targeted by these statements?
Well, we are not backtracking, so I don’t feel targeted. We still have to take the last step and for that to happen, three conditions have to be met.
The first condition is a formal one, which is that the Dutch Senate has not approved the postal law yet so it cannot be introduced yet.
And there are two other criteria, which have been extensively debated in the House of Parliament. One is that if we open up the final parts of the market, then labour conditions should be fair. Newcomers should agree to adhere to the minimum wage and we take a gradual growth model where newcomers will start to pay better if they have a bigger market share and make more turnover.
The third element is that there should be a level playing field in Europe, in particular in the major markets such as Germany and the UK. And especially in Germany, where the postal market may be formally open but in practice it’s not.
Now the German government has still to take a few decisions, which could be protectionist or open. And I’m pressing them – and here McCreevy is on my side – not to take a protectionist approach but to open up their market to newcomers.
So the Netherlands is also seeking to defend its minimum wage, despite the fact that it is criticising Germany’s introduction of one?
Yes, I’m very much in favour of minimum wages. But the question is: “What’s the level of the minimum wage and how do you introduce it?”
And the minimum wage in the Netherlands, for example, is much, much lower than the wages being paid by TNT [the main Dutch postal operator].
But there are indications that newcomers are even paying below the minimum wages and that’s against the law. So, I want to have 100% certainty that they do not pay below minimum wage.
And secondly, newcomers should follow a gradual, step-by-step growth model, where they improve their wages.
We are not introducing a wage at the level of TNT. It’s a minimum wage that can improve and will improve if the newcomers take more market share. So it’s totally different from in Germany.
So the minimum wage would be set according to market share then?
No, there is a minimum wage which is fixed, but employers and trade unions have agreed upon paying better if the market is open and they gain market share.
When do you foresee that these conditions will be fulfilled?
Originally you had set the start date for liberalisation on 1 January 2008 […] I don’t know, I’m pressing […] I’m pressing McCreevy, I’m pressing the German government, I’m pressing the social partners and the employers…
You’re also yourself being pressed by McCreevy, it seems. Can you confirm that you have received a letter from the Commission regarding your decision to delay liberalisation?
Yes. But I will make clear to McCreevy that first the Senate still has to approve the law and that we are ready to team up with him in setting a level playing field across Europe.
Are you concerned about the continued provision of a universal postal service once full liberalisation takes place in your country? In the UK, which is one of the only EU countries to have liberalised fully so far, a recent government report finds that liberalisation poses a ‘serious threat’ to Royal Mail’s financial stability and to its ability to continue providing a universal service.
Within the new postal law, I think we have some good agreements on how to keep the universal service affordable so I’m not too worried about it.
We are a small country with a lot of companies and a lot of houses. We are densely populated. So I know that in this kind of a market, it may be a little easier, but we have found a way to keep it affordable.
So you’re not looking at flanking measures?
No, the debate in Parliament was mainly focused on the fact that the universal service was rather too lucrative for TNT. So they were not looking at the downside risks but rather at the upside potential of being a universal service provider.
And for other countries, do you privilege any particular measure?
No. I think it’s up to the member states to solve the way they do the universal service. As long as it’s not a barrier to entry, we are open to such support measures.