Brussels, 23 October 2001
The Commission adopts a Decision on the monitoring of relations between La Poste and mail-preparation firms in France
The Commission today adopted a Decision on the monitoring of relations between the French company La Poste and firms specialising in the making-up and preparation of mail. The Commission sees a conflict of interests in the relations between La Poste and private mail-preparation firms in that La Poste is both a competitor of those firms and, in view of its postal monopoly, their unavoidable partner. In the Commission's view, this conflict of interests encourages La Poste to abuse its dominant position. Since French legislation does not provide for sufficiently effective or independent monitoring to neutralise this conflict of interest, the Commission takes the view that the French State has contravened Article 86(1), read in conjunction with Article 82, of the Treaty.
The Decision adopted today is the result of proceedings initiated by the Commission at the end of 1998 at the request of the SNELPD, a trade association representing the majority of French mail-preparation firms. The SNELPD's members provide a variety of services ranging from the making-up of mail on behalf of large mail originators to the delivery of mail in pre-sorted bags to certain offices of La Poste. The mail-preparation sector is particularly linked to that of direct mail.
La Poste is present on the mail-preparation market alongside private firms in that it offers services to businesses itself or via some of its subsidiaries. Since the bulk of mail flows handled by mail-preparation firms are covered by the postal monopoly, they must inevitably do business with La Poste. However, it is La Poste which defines the financial and technical conditions on which mail-preparation firms may have access to its network. It is consequently confronted with a conflict of interests, i.e. it is in a situation in which it is tempted to discriminate against competitors of the La Poste group by, for example, amending its tariffs at will, defining technical standards in such a way as to eliminate certain mail-preparation firms or applying them differently to different firms. Mail-preparation firms are thus in a position of dependency and vulnerability vis-à-vis La Poste.
The French State does monitor La Poste's activities and the contacts it establishes with its commercial partners, but French legislation provides for only partial scrutiny of the conditions which La Poste applies to mail-preparation firms. Moreover, this scrutiny is the responsibility of the Ministry of Finance, which is also responsible for safeguarding the State's financial interests in the public postal operator, a fact which might affect its impartiality.
During the proceedings, the French authorities announced their intention to create an ombudsman responsible for the universal postal service who would have the power to issue public and reasoned opinions and to intervene in relations between La Poste and its customers and partners. The Commission considers that this would represent a very significant advance provided a number of changes and adjustments were made to enhance the independence and effectiveness of monitoring activities.
This Decision does not challenge the scope of the postal monopoly in France.
The French State has two months from the date of notification of the Decision to inform the Commission of the measures taken to rectify the situation.
Article 86 of the EC Treaty prohibits Member States from enacting or maintaining in force any measures relating to public undertakings or undertakings enjoying exclusive rights which create situations which are contrary to the rules contained in the Treaty, in particular the rules on competition. It authorises the Commission to address decisions to the Member States requiring them to take corrective measures.