EC proposes full postal market opening by 2009

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The European Commission earlier this month has formally proposed to open European Union postal markets fully to competition by 2009, in line with the agreed target date set out in the current Postal Directive.

The EC said that based on extensive research, opening up the European union postal markets is the best way to maintain universal service while further improving quality and choice for EU consumers and businesses.

Full market opening will mean that national operators will no longer have a monopoly on mail below a certain weight--currently a maximum of 50 grams--known as the "reserved area," the EC said.

The proposed new Directive is the final step in a long reform process that has already seen large areas of EU postal markets opened to competition, with very positive results, the EC said.

The proposal also maintains the current obligations on Member States to ensure a high-quality universal service comprising at least one delivery and collection five days a week for every EU citizen. It will also further reinforce consumer protection and increase the role of national regulatory authorities.

The obligation to ensure affordability of postal services is maintained in the proposal, as is the possibility for Member States to impose a uniform tariff for single piece tariff items such as consumer mail.

In the event that remaining net costs of providing universal service need to be covered, Member States will be able to choose from a range of options, including state aids, public procurement, compensation funds and cost sharing, the EC said.

With the removal of reserved areas, the EC said users can expect the postal services available to them to develop and further improve. Universal service providers will be motivated to become more reliable and efficient and to further increase their customer focus in the light of potential competition from new market entrants. Full market opening will also directly foster the creation of new jobs in new postal companies, and, indirectly, in the industries dependent on the postal sector.

The 1997 Postal Directive currently regulates postal services in the EU. It created a regulatory framework, which guarantees citizens a universal service while gradually limiting the scope of the reserved area. Initially the reserved area was less than 350 grams, amended in 2002 to 100 grams and reduced on January 2006 to 50 grams.

The Directive aimed at ensuring the best possible service through a gradual opening of the market, with a final target set for full opening in 2009. It included a requirement that the EC should provide periodic reports on its implementation. It also required that before the end of 2006, the EC must confirm whether the 2009 date remained appropriate. The EC is now proposing, by means of a further amending Directive, that the date should be confirmed.

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