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IP/02/932

Brussels, 26th June 2002

Postal services: the Commission asks France to reinforce the independence of its national regulatory authority for the postal sector

The European Commission has decided to make a formal request to France to ensure that the national regulatory authority for the postal sector is independent of the public postal operator, as required by Directive 97/67/EC on postal services. The independence of the regulatory authority is fundamental in guaranteeing the proper operation of the universal postal service and fair competition in the area of non-reserved services. At the moment in France, it is the Minister for Economic Affairs, Finance and Industry who is simultaneously responsible both for undertaking certain tasks in connection with State property in "La Poste" and its economic and financial performance and for regulating the sector, and this could result in a potential conflict of interest in infringement of the Directive. The Commission's request takes the form of a "reasoned opinion", the second stage of the infringement procedure under Article 226 of the EC Treaty. If the French authorities provide no satisfactory answer within two months after receiving the reasoned opinion, the Commission may decide to refer the matter to the Court of Justice.

Internal Market Commissioner Frits Bolkestein said: "The national regulatory authorities are called on to play a key role in a rapidly changing postal sector. If we want to provide our citizens with the benefits in terms of quality and price that the internal market has already shown, for instance in telecommunications, we must ensure that each Member State complies with minimum guarantees for the independence of these postal authorities."

The infringement procedure against France refers to the lack of operational independence of the regulatory authority for the postal sector in relation to postal operators, especially the public postal operator, as required by Directive 97/67/EC on postal services.

Background

According to Directive 97/67/EC, Member States must "designate one or more national regulatory authorities for the postal sector that are legally separate from and operationally independent of the postal operators", while remaining free to choose between a public authority or an independent body appointed for the task. France has opted for a public authority by appointing the Minister for Economic Affairs, Finance and Industry as the national regulatory authority for the postal sector. However, the Minister is also responsible for certain tasks in connection with State property in "La Poste", as well as its economic and financial performance.

In spite of the fact that in December 2001 France decided to appoint a universal postal service ombudsman, whose primary task is to deal with complaints from users of the universal postal service and who enjoys a certain degree of independence in relation to the Minister, it is nevertheless still true that the ombudsman does not replace the Minister as the regulatory authority for the postal sector. There remains a need in the case of the Minister to ensure the proper separation of operational and regulatory functions.

The infringement procedure in question is part of a series of similar procedures initiated by the Commission against Belgium (see IP/01/1139), Greece, Italy and Spain for failure to comply with requirements in accordance with the 1997 Directive by designating an independent regulatory authority. All these Member States have introduced, or plan to introduce, measures to remedy the matter.

On the other hand, this procedure is different from but complementary to the Commission Decision of 23 October 2001 on the monitoring of relations between "La Poste" and mail-preparation firms in France (see IP/01/1476), which was adopted on the basis of competition rules.

Following Directive 97/67/EC which laid down the regulatory framework for postal services in the EU, a new Directive on postal services was proposed by the Commission and has just been adopted (see IP/02/671). The new Directive amends the existing framework, primarily by defining the next steps in the process of the gradual and controlled opening to competition of the market in postal services, while maintaining a universal postal service.

Information on current infringement proceedings against Member States is available on the Europa website at:

http://europa.eu.int/comm/secretariat_general/sgb/droit_com/index_en.htm


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