European Commissioner to Set Deadline to Open Postal Services to Competition

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European Union commissioner Martin Bangemann plans to propose legislation next month that will set a deadline for full liberalization of the EU's delivery service that is similar to the United States' First-Class and parcel delivery. Bangemann is in charge of industrial policy, telecommunications and postal affairs for the European Union.

The legislation, which must be endorsed by the EU Commission before it's forwarded to EU telecommunication ministers and the European Parliament for adoption, would abolish postal monopolies in the 15-nation union in two steps. A decision must be made no later than Jan. 1, 2001, and postal services cannot be regulated until 2003.

Many members of the EU endorse liberalization while others have argued that a go-slow approach would be the best way to guarantee universal service.

"The [European postal markets] have been comfortable places for postal services to hide their unemployment," said Charles Prescott, vice president of international business development at the Direct Marketing Association. "Now, postal services are going to have to get more competitive and trim down and become real serious businesses."

Opening the commercial mail sector to more competition, however, would "lower rates all across the board for international direct mailers and offer more choices," Prescott said. In addition, if universal service is open to liberalization, "some of the protected parcel rates may have to come down, which will put more competition against companies like the UPS, FedEx and DHL."

While Bangemann's proposal would affect universal service, direct mail and cross-border mail probably won't be subject to liberalization until at least 2003.

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