Members of Parliament’s transport committee overwhelmingly voted in favour of delaying the liberalisation of Europe’s postal markets to 2011, in a move that will displease Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy.
Member states would have until 31 December 2010 – two years more than proposed by the Commission – to eliminate lingering monopolies in the postal sector, according to a compromise deal adopted by MEPs on 18 June. The deal will be put to a vote by the full House in July.
The compromise was put forward by German MEP Markus Ferber (EPP-ED) after some MEPs had argued that the timeline proposed by the Commission would destroy public operators in certain areas of the EU, resulting in a weaker customer service and big job cuts.
Commissioner McCreevy, who has been pressing for the 2009 deadline to be respected, has accused opponents of his proposal of using “scare tactics”, saying: “A closer look at the arguments they put forward to avoid or delay market opening shows that ultimately they add up to nothing more than protectionism… 2009 is not going to bring the chaos and tragedy that some would like to make us believe.”
However, these “scare tactics” appear to have won over a majority of MEPs, who also voted to allow the 12 new member states as well as countries with topographical difficulties, such as Greece, an additional two years to abolish their lucrative monopolies, or so-called reserved areas, on the collection and delivery of mail weighing less than 50 grammes.
Nevertheless, in order to prevent distortions of competition, the committee also voted to prevent postal operators in countries that choose to maintain their reserved area from entering markets that have already been fully opened. “This helps avoid protected monopolists to act as cannibals in liberalised markets,” said Rapporteur Markus Ferber. It should also put at rest the minds of those countries that have already liberalised, such as Sweden, the UK and Finland, or are planning to do so shortly, such as the Netherlands and Germany.
Ferber believes that his compromise solution, which has already received the backing of Parliament’s three largest political groups (EPP-ED, PES and ALDE) and will likely be adopted with only minor adjustments next month in plenary, can show member states how to resolve their differences.
Indeed, the debate in the Council has so far been polarised between France, which is adamant that the financial support mechanisms in the proposal will not suffice to replace the reserved area and guarantee a quality universal service, and Germany. Indeed, the current holder of the EU Presidency is due to open up its market on 1 January 2008 and has been exhorting its counterparts to stick to the January 2009 deadline, in order to open up new opportunities for Deutsche Post and avert a situation in which its national operator would have to compete with operators that continue to have protected home markets (EURACTIV 7/06/07).