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VAT/ Postal services - Commission launches infringement proceedings against Germany, the United Kingdom and Sweden

European Commission - IP/06/484   10/04/2006

Other available languages: FR DE SV

IP/06/484

Brussels, 10 April 2006

VAT/ Postal services - Commission launches infringement proceedings against Germany, the United Kingdom and Sweden

The European Commission has sent formal requests for information to the United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden on the VAT application of postal services. The United Kingdom and Germany exempt from VAT all or most postal services supplied by their former postal monopolies, while Sweden does not exempt postal services. Current VAT legislation is not yet adapted to the postal market that was liberalised by Directive 97/67/EC. The Commission, awaiting the revision of the current legislation according to its proposals , has to ensure a proper application of the VAT postal exemption in order to avoid distortions of competition between former monopolies and market entrants. The requests take the form of letters of formal notice, the first stage of the infringement procedure laid down in Article 226 of the EC Treaty. The Member States involved are invited to reply within two months.

"The European Commission as guardian of the EC Treaties is obliged to ensure EU rules are applied in a harmonised manner across the Community. The VAT exemption for postal services is still part of Community rules and only its proper application can help to minimize distortions of competition in a liberalised market between former monopolies and market entrants" said László Kovács, European Commissioner for taxation and customs. "I urge the Council of the European Union to adopt as soon as possible the Commission proposal concerning VAT rules on postal services (see IP/03/633 and MEMO/03/98) in order to modernise the current legislation and respond to the needs of today”.

The VAT postal exemption as applied in the United Kingdom and in Germany hinders competition.

Perhaps the most important obstacle to achieve effective competition in the postal sector is the VAT exemption as applied in several Member States. In transposing article 13 of the Sixth VAT Directive (which exempts supplies by "the public postal services"), those Member States, among them the UK and Germany, have exempted from VAT all or most of the postal services provided by their former postal monopolies. They do so on the grounds that those operators have been assigned particular obligations with regards to the provision of the universal postal service. This results in distortion of competition with other postal private operators that are fully taxed.

Since VAT rules on postal services are not yet modernised due to no agreement yet reached in the Council on the Commission’s proposals, the European Commission argues that the postal VAT exemption should only apply as far as the strict discharge of the universal service obligation is concerned.

Where for commercial reasons, former monopolies offer to some clients, conditions which are not available to the general public, they are acting as commercial operators attempting to fend off competition. By consequence, they should be subject to the same VAT rules as the other operators in the postal market.

Sweden does not apply the VAT postal exemption.

Contrary to the United Kingdom and Germany, Sweden does not exempt postal services. All operators, including the one entrusted with the provision of the universal service - Posten AB - must charge VAT. While in this way ensuring that VAT does not distort competition, Sweden has nevertheless failed to apply an exemption which remains in Community legislation and must be applied in a harmonised manner across the Community.

The European Commission calls for a modernisation of VAT rules.

In taking these actions, the Commission is responding to a number of complaints it has received. It is aware that the three Member States concerned are not the only ones where similar problems exist and regards these as test cases which show in stark relief the devastating effects non-harmonised application of VAT rules has for the internal market.

Because of these complex consequences, the Commission has submitted, in 2003, a proposal to the Council (see IP/03/633 and MEMO/03/98) modernizing the current legislation. This proposal, however, remains blocked in the Council and current distortions continue to disturb the markets.

The Commission calls upon the Council to resume discussion on its 2003 legislative proposal.

Background

Directive 97/67/EC "the postal directive" established the rules governing the internal market in the postal sector. Existing postal monopolies were severely restricted (and are in the process of disappearing) and rules ensuring the provision of an affordable, high quality service to all -the universal postal service- were laid down. National independent regulatory authorities were put in place to ensure both the provision of the universal service and fair competition between former monopolies and market entrants.

The latest information on infringement procedures concerning all Member States can be found at the following site;

http://ec.europa.eu/secretariat_general/sgb/droit_com/index_en.htm

Further information on VAT and postal services can be found at the following website:

http://ec.europa.eu/prelex/detail_dossier_real.cfm?CL=en&DosId=182512


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