Brussels, 30th July 2001
Postal services: Commission pursues infringement proceedings against Belgium
The European Commission has decided to send a formal request to Belgium to amend the way it has implemented Directive 97/67/EC on postal services. In particular, the Commission considers that Belgium must ensure that the national postal regulator is fully independent from the public postal operators. The formal request takes the form of a so-called "reasoned opinion", the second stage of formal infringement proceedings under Article 226 of the EC Treaty. If the Belgian authorities do not comply with the Commission's request within two months following receipt of the reasoned opinion, the Commission may decide to refer the case to the European Court of Justice. The Commission considers regulatory independence as a fundamental instrument to ensure the proper functioning of the universal postal service and ensure undistorted competition in the liberalised area. The Commission is also looking closely at the independence of the postal regulators in France, Greece, Italy and Spain.
Internal Market Commissioner Frits Bolkestein commented "We need to ensure that the Postal Services Directive is respected and enforced in all Member States if we want all European Union consumers to benefit from good quality postal services at affordable prices, as well as the increased efficiency that competition brings."
The infringement proceedings against Belgium concern the lack of operational independence of the postal regulatory authority from the postal operators, as required by the postal services Directive (97/67/EC). The national minister plays a role in the national public sector postal services operator as well as exercising regulatory functions in the postal sector. The Commission considers that this creates a potential conflict of interest for the minister in exercising his or her regulatory duties in violation of the requirements of the Directive. The Commission position in this regard does not affect the Member State's rights to define the statute of their national postal regulatory authorities, nor the principle of neutrality regarding property ownership provided for in the European Community Treaty (Article 295).
Directive 97/67/EC established common rules for the development of the Internal Market of European Union postal services and for an improvement in the quality of service. The deadline for implementation was 9th February 1999.
The Directive introduced the requirement to guarantee provision of universal postal services within the European Union (national and cross-border collection and delivery of postal items up to 2 kilograms, postal packages up to 10 or 20 kilograms and services for registered and insured items).
Furthermore, the Directive harmonised the conditions to finance the provision of such universal services (e.g. definition of services that can be reserved) and the conditions in which non-reserved services can be provided (e.g. using authorisation or licencing systems to impose universal service obligations on operators providing services which are within the scope of the universal service and the option for Member States to oblige such operators to pay into a compensation fund to cover eventual shortfalls in revenue that the universal service provider might suffer as a result of the extra costs imposed by its universal service obligations).
As provided by Directive 97/67/EC, the Commission presented in May 2000 a proposal to amend the Directive to allow for a further and gradual liberalisation of the postal market (see IP/00/541 and MEMO/00/29). The European Parliament and the Council are currently discussing this proposal.