Despite strong opposition from postal workers, members of the European Parliament gave the green light to postal liberalisation. Nevertheless, MEPs agreed that member states should have at least an extra two years – until 2011 – before having to complete full market opening.
A large majority of MEPs rejected pleas, from a select group of Greens and leftists in Parliament, to renounce to full liberalisation in the postal sector and maintain the so-called ‘reserved area’ as a means of financing the universal service, in a vote on 11 July 2007.
Instead, a compromise agreement, which had already been approved by the EP’s transport committee on 18 June 2007 (EURACTIV 19/06/07) and had received the backing of Parliament’s three major political groups (EPP-ED, PES and ALDE) was adopted with only minor changes.
The main elements of the agreement are:
- Rejection of the Commission’s proposal to complete market opening in all 27 member states by 1st January 2009. Instead, two stages are proposed:
- 31 December 2010, as the final deadline for complete market opening;
- possibility of extending the deadline until 31 December 2012, for:
- new member states;
- countries with “a particularly difficult topography or many islands”, such as Greece, and;
- countries “with a small population and a limited geographical size”. This last category is a novelty and is being termed the ‘Luxembourg clause’ as this country would most likely be the only member state to benefit from it.
- A ‘reciprocity clause’ is included, aimed at preventing distortions of competition until then, by preventing postal operators in countries that maintain a reserved area from entering markets that have already been fully opened, such as the UK Sweden and Finland;
- A strong Universal Service Obligation (USO), with member states obliged to ensure sufficient access and contact points across their territory and a uniform tariff between rural and urban areas.
- Possibility of introducing new financing mechanisms for the USO where operators prove unable to provide such services profitably, including the set-up of a compensation fund or access to state subsidies;
- Provisions aimed at guaranteeing minimum social standards for postal workers across Europe, in view of avoiding a “race to the bottom” as companies compete in the market. The report states that basic rights and working conditions applied in member states, such as minimum pay and the right to strike, will not be affected by the Directive.
- The obligation for the Commission to issue detailed guidance on how to calculate the net cost of the universal service to ensure a level playing field among operators and avoid violations of competition law.