A Commission proposal to open Europe’s postal markets to full competition provoked a rift between member states as France, with the support of trade unions across Europe, opposed the 2009 deadline upheld by EU Presidency-holder Germany.
Member states made little progress towards a compromise when debating the Commission’s proposal in the Transport and Telecoms Council on 7 June.
Indeed, no real public advance was expected, with elections scheduled on 10 and 17 June in the two countries that have been spearheading the opposition to the proposal – France and Belgium.
Neither countries are likely to commit to any kind of compromise before then, and the real debate will likely take place at the end of the month, when heads of state and government meet at the European Summit or during the competitiveness ministers’ meeting.
The issues of contention remain:
- The final date for full liberalisation: Germany, which has committed to opening up its postal market to full competition by 1 January 2008, is pressuring its counterparts to keep to the January 2009 deadline proposed by the Commission, to avoid a situation in which Deutsche Post must compete with operators that continue to have protected home markets.
- How to calculate the net cost of the universal service obligation (the main concern is to ensure a level playing field among operators and avoid violations of competition law) and which financing mechanisms should be allowed to cover these costs.
Although MEPs in the Transport committee were unable to reach any sort of compromise on these issues during a debate on 4 June, an informal meeting on 5 June between the rapporteur on the proposal, Markus Ferber (EPP-ED), and the five other MEPs acting as co-rapporteurs (three Socialists and two Liberals) delivered a few elements of common ground, including:
- 31 December 2010 as the final deadline for complete market opening;
- the obligation for the Commission to issue detailed guidance on how to calculate the net cost of the universal service by January 2009, and;
- the obligation for member states to present national financing plans by January 2010.
The deal must yet be approved by political groups ahead of a first-reading vote in plenary in July.