Speaking at a high-level conference on postal liberalisation on Tuesday (24 June), the EU’s commissioners for competition and the internal market warned countries with lingering postal monopolies to open up or face legal action.
“We will not hesitate to use all means at our disposal to make a competitive and sustainable postal market a reality,” said EU Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy, warning governments not to introduce what he called “creative market barriers” under the pretext of safeguarding basic mail services for all.
Such measures will undoubtedly include infringement procedures against member states that are “backtracking” on their pledges to liberalise the postal market fully, said Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes. “You know me, I will enforce competition rules in the postal sector […] Regulation is not enough,” she said, highlighting the fact that she had already sent a formal notice to Slovakia on 18 June regarding its plans to “re-monopolise certain sectors of its postal market”.
The strong statements come a surprisingly short time – just four months – after the EU pushed through legislation, which only commits member states to full liberalisation of their mail markets by 2011 at the earliest.
They appear as a testimony of Brussels’ commitment to full market opening amid growing apprehension at the national level as to the concrete effects of full liberalisation on employment and the provision of a quality service for all.
Although no names were cited, Germany appears to take the brunt of the Commission’s discontent, with its plans to introduce a minimum hourly wage of €9.80 for postmen operating on its territory in order to prevent social dumping.
The move has sparked a big dispute with the Netherlands, where Dutch Junior Economy Minister Frank Heemskerk retaliated by delaying his country’s own planned 1 January 2008 liberalisation until a “more level playing field” was established (EURACTIV 07/12/07) – a move also under fire from the Commission.
“While everybody goes along with the idea of a level playing field, there seem to be very different interpretations of what a level playing field actually is […] Paying lip service to free markets and introducing protectionism through the back door is not acceptable,” stressed McCreevy.
He continued: “I find it particularly unacceptable that member states would try to hide protectionism behind arguments they justify by the general interest. If all member states were to copy this approach then postal markets would become more closed instead of more open. I cannot accept that.”
Both Germany and the Netherlands have received letters from the commissioner in which he voices such concerns. So have Finland, Austria, the Czech Republic, Belgium and Poland – making them all potential targets for legal action. The complaints cover a wide range of practices – from Finland’s charges on new entrants that do not agree to provide nationwide services or Belgian plans to simply force all new operators to deliver across its whole territory to Austria allowing its national operator to install key access to private letter boxes in apartment hallways.