Brussels, 7th October 2008
Commissioner Neelie Kroes commented: "To re-monopolise a business activity that had already been successfully liberalised is a step in the wrong direction. Such attempts to benefit incumbent operators by re-monopolising liberalised services harm consumers and businesses, who depend on efficient postal services, and will not be tolerated by the Commission".
Infringement of the competition rules
In the Slovak Republic, the delivery of hybrid mail items was open to competition and several private companies were active on that market. However, on 15 February 2008, the Slovak Republic adopted an amendment to its postal law, reserving the delivery of hybrid mail to the incumbent postal operator, Slovenská Pošta. Since the entry into force of that amendment on 1 April 2008, the delivery of hybrid mail has been re-monopolised to the benefit of Slovenská Pošta. Private operators are prevented from exercising their activity in this field and, as a consequence, incur losses that endanger their viability. Indeed, as a result of the previous liberalisation, hybrid mail services had developed strongly in Slovakia. The re-monopolisation of these services is harming consumers and businesses as they risk losing the advances already achieved.
The European Court of Justice has previously ruled that the extension of a statutory monopoly into neighbouring but competitive markets is as such incompatible with Article 86 in conjunction with Article 82 of the EC Treaty.
However, as foreseen in the Postal Directive, certain postal services may continue to be reserved to the universal service provider if such reservation is necessary for the maintenance of universal service. In this case, the Commission's investigation found that neither the Slovak Republic nor Slovenská Pošta have been able to demonstrate that the restriction of competition is justified. In particular, neither the Slovak Republic nor Slovenská Pošta has been able to demonstrate that the reservation of hybrid mail services to the benefit of Slovenska Posta is necessary to finance the universal postal service.
The Commission has therefore concluded that the return from a liberalised Slovak hybrid mail service market to a monopoly violates Article 82 EC Treaty in conjunction with Article 86 and needs to be undone.
Background on hybrid mail
Hybrid mail is a specific form of postal service where the content is electronically transferred from the sender to the postal service operator who then prints, envelopes, sorts and delivers the postal items. Hybrid mail is an important feature for such companies as banks, insurances and telecommunications undertakings who regularly have to send large amounts of mail (for example invoices).