With Portugal currently at the EU’s helm, the country’s Public Works, Transport and Communications Minister Mário Lino talks exclusively to EURACTIV about achieving a compromise between all 27 member states on the sensitive issue of opening up national postal markets to competition, and describes the main elements of a deal that he believes will garner the backing of his 26 European counterparts.
MEPs have voted in favour of delaying liberalisation until 2011. Do you agree that the 2009 deadline was too early?
During the negotiations, it became clear that the majority of the countries felt that this date was not achievable, despite the fact that some member states were prepared to go along with it.
As EU Presidency holders, especially after the vote in the European Parliament, it was our conclusion that no agreement was possible on the date proposed by the Commission. I’m sure that the Commission will draw the same conclusions from the intense debate we had on their proposal.
Some EU members have already opened up their postal markets or are in the process of doing so. Where does Portugal stand on postal liberalisation?
Portugal is ready for the total liberalisation in 2009, but it will be done in accordance with market conditions and what happens in the other countries of the EU.
Parliament also voted that some countries, including new member states Greece and Luxembourg, should be allowed even more time to open up their markets. Do you think this is necessary? Why?
We believe it is necessary, and our proposal reflects this conviction. So we share the view of the European Parliament that some member states should be provided with the option of a further delay of two years before opening up their markets.
This in fact only applies to Greece and Luxembourg, for the characteristics of their postal markets or their particular geographical situation, and to the countries that have joined the postal reform at a later stage.
Our hope is that, among these 14 countries, some of them will decide to implement the Directive at an earlier stage, or not profit at all from that possibility.
Could different dates for different groups of countries lead to distortions of competition among operators? Do you think that Parliament’s idea of a ‘reciprocity clause’ could provide a solution to this?
We should see the final date for the opening of the market in the context: postal services have, for centuries, been state monopolies.
We are now speaking of a maximum of two years to complete the process. In the timeline of the history of postal services this represents almost nothing.
The reciprocity clause, voted by the EP, is a tool to avoid possible distortions – if any arise – from the delay of two years. We also took it on board as a fair solution to that eventuality.
How important is this piece of legislation, both for European postal markets and, in broader terms, for the completion of the internal market and the EU’s Lisbon Strategy?
The final opening of the postal market will be a major step towards the completion of the internal market. New opportunities are created to have better services, better prices and more jobs.
Are you worried, as are a number of trade unions and national postal operators, that it may become difficult to maintain a high-quality universal service once the reserved area is abolished?
No, I’m confident that universal service will continue to be provided at the highest standards, and even improved. We foresaw and included all the possible safeguards in the legislative text.
Also, the independent national regulators will be closely monitoring the market. It was a common and major concern of all member states to guarantee a high-quality universal service to users in every point of our territories.
How close do you think the 27 EU members are to reaching an agreement on this dossier? Could an agreement be achieved on 1 October or will it be postponed until later?
In the Council, since the beginning of the negotiation, with our German friends, we worked patiently and thoroughly. All member states have shown a high degree of responsibility and a strong will to arrive at a positive outcome.
Negotiation means that every one has to make an effort. It was the Portuguese Presidency’s conviction that this agreement should reach a high degree of consensus – qualified majority, although possible, was not our objective.
This final step in the opening of the market must be taken with all countries. The proposal the presidency made at the beginning of September brought into the agreement a considerable number of more reluctant partners. All the signs we have received have been positive.
The remaining few questions, even if important, should not be obstacles. So my hope is that we will manage to achieve a large consensus and reach an agreement on 1 October.