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The Establishment of an Internal Postal Market

The accomplishment of the internal market in postal services was achieved in legislative terms in 2008 with the adoption of Directive 2008/6/EC. Gradual market opening and liberalisation of EU postal services entered into a decisive phase. Member States need to guarantee the provision of high quality and affordable universal postal services throughout the EU. The establishment of independent national regulatory authorities is the main pillar of the EU postal reform. It also provides the regulatory framework for defining, among others, the universal service obligations and tariff principles, fixing common rules for transparency of accounts for universal service providers, as well as setting up and ensuring compliance with service standards

ACT

Directive 2008/6/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 Februray 2008 amending Directive 97/67/EC with regard to the full accomplishment of the internal market of Community postal services [See amending acts].

SUMMARY

Background

The Community framework for EU postal services is set out in Directive 97/67/EC, as amended by Directive 2002/39/EC and by Directive 2008/6/EC, which provide the final step in the EU postal reform, which was initiated in 1992 by a green paper. Directive 97/67/EC initiated the liberalisation process which was deepened with Directive 2002/39/EC and further gradual market opening.

This directive established a timetable for progressive liberalisation in two stages: 1 January 2003 for letters weighing less than 100 g (or for which the postage cost is over three times that of a standard letter), and 1 January 2006 for letters weighing less than 50 g (or for which the postage cost is over two and a half times that of a standard letter).

Directive 2008/6/EC sets a deadline for the full market opening by 31 December 2010 for the majority of Member States (95 % of the EU postal market in terms of volume) and by 31 December 2012 for the remaining Member States.

Universal service obligation

Member States must ensure that users enjoy the right to a universal service involving the permanent provision of a postal service of specified quality at all points in their territory at affordable prices for all users.
To this end, Member States must ensure that the density of the points of contact and of the access points takes account of the needs of users, and that the universal service is guaranteed at least five working days a week, at least one clearance and one delivery to home or business premises. (Article 3).

Each Member State must guarantee the provision of the universal service and shall notify the Commission of the steps it has taken to fulfil this obligation. Member States may designate one or more undertakings as universal service providers to cover the entire national territory, subject to a periodic review (Article 4). . Each Member State shall determine and publish the rights and obligations assigned to the universal service provider(s) in accordance with Community law and shall disclose the identity of the universal service provider(s) to the European Commission.

Each Member State must ensure that universal service provision meets the following requirements (Article 5):

  • it shall offer a service guaranteeing compliance with the essential requirement;
  • it shall offer an identical service to users under comparable condition;
  • it shall be made available without any form of discrimination whatsoever, especially without discrimination arising from political, religious or ideological consideration;
  • it shall not be interrupted or stopped except in cases of force majeur;
  • it shall evolve in response to the technical, economic and social developments and to the needs of users.

Each Member State must ensure that users and postal service providers are regularly given sufficiently detailed and up-to-date information by the universal service provider(s) regarding the particular features of the universal services offered (Article 6).

Safeguarding the provision of universal postal service

Directive 2008/6/EC provides the last legislative step in the gradual market opening by making it compulsory for Member States not to grant or maintain in force any exclusive or special rights for the establishment and provision of postal services.

If universal provider(s) claim and prove that the provision of universal postal service entails an unfair financial burden, Directive 2008/6/EC envisages compensation from Member States such as public procurement procedures, public funding or a shared mechanism between providers of services and/or users or any other means compatible with the Treaty.

Any claimed unfair financial burden needs to be assessed and approved by the independent national regulatory authority (Article 7).

Provision of postal services and licensing regimes

For postal services which are within the scope of the universal service, Member States may introduce authorisation procedures, including individual licences, in order to guarantee compliance with the essential requirements and to ensure the provision of the universal service.

For postal services which are outside the scope of the universal service, Member States may introduce general authorisations to guarantee compliance with the essential requirements.

All licensing procedures, obligations and requirements relating to postal services providers shall be transparent, accessible, non-discriminatory, proportionate, precise and unambiguous, made public in advance and based on objective criteria (Article 9).

Fees and transparency of accounts

Member States ensure that the fees for each of the services forming part of the provision of the universal service comply with the following principles:

  • prices shall be affordable and must be such that all users, independent of geographical location, and, in the light of specific national conditions, have access to the service;
  • prices shall be cost-oriented and give incentives for an efficient universal service provision;
  • the application of a uniform fee shall not exclude the right of the universal service provider(s) to conclude individual price agreements with user;
  • fees shall be transparent and non-discriminator;
  • whenever universal service providers apply special fees, they shall apply the prinicples of transparency and non-discrimination with regard to both the fees and the associated conditions (Article 12).

In order to ensure the cross-border provision of the universal service, Member States must encourage their universal service providers to observe the following principles in their agreements on terminal dues for intra-Community cross-border mail:

  • terminal dues must be fixed in relation to the costs of processing and delivering incoming cross-border mail;
  • levels of remuneration must be related to the quality of service;
  • terminal dues must be transparent and non-discriminatory (Article 13).

The universal service provider(s) shall keep separate accounts within their internal accounting systems in order to clearly distinguish between each of the services and products which are part of the universal service and those which are not. Such internal accounting systems shall operate on the basis of consistently applied and objectively justifiable cost accounting principles.

National regulatory authorities shall ensure that the cost-accounting system used is verified by a competent, independent body (Article 14).

Quality of service

Member States shall ensure that service standards in relation to universal service are set and published in order to guarantee a postal service of good quality.


In particular, quality standards shall focus, on routing times and on the regularity and reliability of services (Article 16).

Quality standards for intra-Community cross-border services (laid down in the Annex II to the directive) must be as follows: D + 3 for 85 % of postal items of the fastest standard category, and D + 5 for 97 % of these items. D represents the date of deposit and n the number of working days between the posting and the delivery.


Member States must lay down quality standards for national mail and must ensure that they are compatible with those laid down for intra-Community cross-border services.
Member States must notify their quality standards for national services to the Commission, which will publish them in the same manner as the standards for intra-Community cross-border services (Articles 17 and 18).

Member States shall ensure that transparent, simple and inexpensive complaint procedures are put in place by all postal service providers.

Member States shall ensure that these procedures enable disputes to be settled fairly and promptly. Member States shall also encourage the development of independent out-of-court schemes for the resolution of disputes between postal service providers and users (Article 19).

The harmonisation of technical standards must be continued, taking into account in particular the interests of users. The European Committee for Standardisation will be entrusted with drawing up technical standards applicable in the postal sector on the basis of remits to it pursuant to Directive 83/189/EEC laying down a procedure for the provision of information in the field of technical standards and regulations (Article 20).

The European Commission and national regulatory authorities

The Commission will be assisted by a committee (Article 21).

Each Member State must designate one or more national regulatory authorities for the postal sector that are legally separate from and operationally independent of the postal operators. Member States that retain ownership or control of postal service providers shall ensure effective structural separation of the regulatory functions from activities associated with ownership of control.

Member States must inform the Commission which national regulatory authorities they have designated to carry out the tasks arising from this directive (Article 22).

Provision of information

Member States shall ensure that postal service providers provide all the financial information and information concerning the provision of the universal service necessary for: national regulatory authorities to ensure conformity with the provision of, or decisions made in accordance with this Directive; clearly defined statistical purposes (Article 22a).

Reporting on developments in the internal postal market

Every four years, no later than 31 December 2013, the Commission shall submit a report to the European Parliament and to the Council on the application of this directive.

Implementation date

Member States shall bring into force the laws, regulations and administrative provisions necessary to comply with this directive by 31 December 2010 at the latest.

By derogation to the abovementioned obligation, the following Member States decided to invoke the right to postpone the implementation of Directive 2008/6/EC until 31 December 2012 at the latest.

REFERENCES

ActEntry into forceDeadline for transposition in the Member StatesOfficial Journal
Directive 97/67/EC [adoption: codecision COD/1995/0221]

10.2.1998

9.2.1999

OJ L 15 of 21.1.1998

Amending act(s)Entry into forceDeadline for transposition in the Member StatesOfficial Journal

Directive 2002/39/EC

5.7.2002

31.12.2002

OJ L 15 of 5.7.2002

Directive 2008/6/EC

27.2.2008

31.12.2010/31.12.2012

OJ L 52 of 28.2.2008

Regulation (EC) No 1882/2003

20.11.2003

-

OJ L 284 of 31.10.2003

RELATED ACTS

Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council of 22 December 2008 on the application of the Postal Directive (Directive 97/67/EC as amended by Directive 2002/39/EC) [COM(2008) 884 final – not published in the OJ].
The fourth application report provides a comprehensive assessment of the overall transposition of the postal directive in Member States, including the application of key elements and regulatory developments as well as detailed market trends (including economic, technical, social, employment and quality of service aspects). The report describes the main developments since the previous application report adopted in October 2006 and covers the reporting period 2006 – 2008.

The following main regulatory developments can be observed during the reporting period:

  • Germany fully opened its postal market as of 1 January 2008.
  • The Netherlands, where full market opening had been envisaged, has now postponed liberalisation without setting any concrete date for full market opening.
  • As regards the development of competition in the postal sector, there is now a trend towards (mandatory or negotiated) access to the delivery network by competitors.
  • Progress towards reducing legal barriers to entry and levelling the playing field has been mixed. The distortive effect of the VAT postal exemptions on competition has largely remained, even though the Commission proposed a relevant amendment of the 6th VAT directive in 2003. The lack of access to letterboxes by competitor postal operators is still a crucial issue in some Member States. Authorisation and licensing procedures and related conditions are not always conducive to the development of competition.

Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council of 18 October 2006 on the application of the Postal Directive (Directive 97/67/EC as amended by Directive 2002/39/EC) [COM(2006) 595 final – not published in the OJ].
The third report accompanied the proposal of thethird postal directive and was based on the conclusion that postal services are an important element of the internal market for services, which are included in the framework of the Lisbon Strategy as a source for economic growth and job creation.

The third report concluded that all the intermediate policy results of the postal directive have been achieved in the reporting period (2005-2006): firstly, monopolies have been progressively reduced by either implementing the gradual market opening calendar enshrined in the postal directive (e.g. reduction of the reserved area to 50g on 1 January 2006) or by additionally opening important segments (such as direct mail) or fully opening the postal market (UK, SE, FI). Secondly, competition has grown and in the most advanced Member States the market shares of the incumbents have been reduced to around 90 % and the perceived degree of competition has generally grown between 2000 and 2005. Thirdly, universal service providers have restructured and successfully adapted to the regulatory and market developments. This is underpinned by the generally positive trend as regards overall revenue and profitability growth. Fourthly, the quality of service has improved, consumer satisfaction is high and the universal service has been maintained.

Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council of 23 March 2005 on the application of the Postal Directive (Directive 97/67/EC as amended by Directive 2002/39/EC) [COM(2005) 102 final - Official Journal C 123 of 21.5.2005].
This second report confirms that, overall, postal sector reform in the EU has made considerable progress. Although not yet completed, it has already resulted in a number of significant improvements, particularly concerning quality of service, improved business efficiency and the separation of regulators from operators. Nevertheless, the practical implementation of some of the more complex regulatory requirements of the postal directive (tariff control, transparency of accounts, authorisation and licensing) still requires further efforts. Moreover, as far as the market in postal services is concerned, the Commission has found that competition is not yet in place and that regulatory action is needed to counter the continued existence of inequalities between Member States, particularly in the area of tax liabilities. The perspectives for the future include a clear challenge for operators to seize all the opportunities available in order to pursue further modernisation in the sector. There is a need to respect the timetable set in the directive, for careful monitoring of regulatory developments, for intensified cooperation between the Member States and the Commission and for an in-depth debate on future postal policy.

Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the application of the Postal Directive (Directive 97/67/EC) [COM(2002) 632 final - not published in the Official Journal].
In 2000, postal services in the EU generated revenues of approximately 85 billion euros and directly employed over 1.6 million people. The postal directive has had major repercussions on the development of the postal services market. In establishing a minimum universal postal service, it guarantees the maintenance of a service that is of public interest, in the framework of the future development of the market. Furthermore, the postal directive has contributed to improving the quality of service and reducing the impact of border effects. It has achieved this by encouraging the adoption of common European standards and increased the quality of service, thanks to measures such as the definition of service objectives (note, for example, that in 2001, 92.3 % of EU cross-border priority mail was delivered within three days of posting). Even if some compliance problems persist as regards the independence of national regulatory authorities, the postal directive has also succeeded in establishing a minimum level of harmonisation in the market. The postal directive has paved the way for a larger opening up of the market and this prospect has helped speed up the rhythm of postal reforms at national level and the restructuring of the postal service, in the interests of greater efficiency and profitability.

Council resolution of 7 February 1994 on the development of Community postal services [Official Journal C 48 of 16.02.1994].

Last updated: 03.02.2009
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