The liberalisation of the Dutch postal market will not go ahead as planned on 1 January 2008 due to the “lack of a level playing field”, notably caused by the introduction of a minimum wage for postmen in Germany. The delay highlights the difficulties linked to the practical implementation of new EU rules on opening up European postal markets to competition.
The delay, which was announced to members of the Dutch Parliament by Junior Economy Minister Frank Heemskerk on 6 December, came in response to a German government decision last week to introduce a €8-€9.80 per hour minimum wage for postal workers (EURACTIV 6/12/07).
In a vote last June, the Dutch Parliament had made full market opening as of 2008 conditional to the existence of a level-playing field in Germany – the main target for market expansion by the Netherlands’ principal mail distributor, TNT.
However, the fear is that the German move to introduce a minimum wage that is 20-30% higher than TNT’s current average price per hour will shield the formerly state-owned mail monopoly Deutsche Post from any competition and “endanger the creation of a level playing field” across Europe.
Thus, despite having battled side-by-side with Germany to push through speedier liberalisation of European postal markets, the Dutch government now believes that “the introduction of the postal law from 1 January 2008 would not be prudent,” according to Heemskerk. He did not give another date for full liberalisation, saying things “should become clearer by mid-2008”.
According to Dutch postal operator TNT, both the introduction of a minimum wage and the current tax situation in Germany exhibit the “outright market protection going on”. “Deutsche Post is the only mail distributor in Germany that is exempted from paying the local 19% VAT rate. How are we supposed to compete?”, asked a TNT spokesman, who welcomed Heemskerk’s announcement.
Rolf Büttner, President of UNI Post, which represents trade unions in the postal sector, hit out at Dutch attempts to establish “a business model based on wage and social dumping” by “torpedo-ing” Germany’s plans for a minimum wage.
Deutsche Post also criticised the Dutch decision, saying it was “utterly incomprehensible” and may contradict EU regulations – though this seems unlikely as draft plans at EU level for liberalising mail services give member states until 2011, or in some cases 2013, to carry out market reforms.
The European Parliament is due to take its final vote on the Commission plan to open up European postal markets to competition in January – a step that looked to be a mere formality after ministers approved practically all the amendments put forward by MEPs (EURACTIV 2/10/07). However, members of the Green Party and the communist-led GUE-NGL look determined to derail the vote and have presented over 70 amendments to the draft text, including one that would simply scrap the whole plan.
EU Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy urged Parliament to reject the attempt, saying: “The consensus reached after a lot of hard work must not be undermined […] Most of the amendments now tabled seem to turn the clock backwards.”