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.
Following warnings last week by the EU’s internal market and competition commissioners that they would “not hesitate” to launch infringement procedures against member states that are “backtracking” on their pledges to liberalise their postal markets fully, Heemskerk insisted: “We are not backtracking, so I don’t feel targeted.”
According to him, full opening of the Dutch mail market – originally planned for 1 January 2008, but postponed due to Dutch objections to the introduction of a German minimum hourly wage for postmen – simply cannot take place until three conditions are 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,” he said.
The two other criteria include “a level playing field in Europe, in particular in the major markets such as Germany and the UK” and “fair” labour conditions.
In Germany, “the postal market may be formally open but in practice it’s not,” he said, urging the German government “not to take a protectionist approach but to open up their market to newcomers”.
Asked whether it is contradictory to oppose the introduction of a German minimum wage while, at the same time, seeking to enforce a similar practice in the Netherlands, the minister said the situation was “totally different”.
“The question is: ‘What’s the level of the minimum wage and how do you introduce it?'” he said, adding: “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 he stressed that “there are indications that newcomers are even paying below the minimum wages and that’s against the law. So, I want to have 100% certitude that they do not pay below minimum wage,” he explained, pleading for unions and employers to find agreement on “a gradual, step-by-step growth model” where newcomers improve the wages they pay as the market is opened and they increase their market share.
Recognising that market opening could make it more difficult for some governments to provide a universal service to citizens, he downplayed the issue in his densely populated country, where the universal service obligation is instead seen as being “too lucrative” rather than a burden.
“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,” he concluded.