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Brussels, 8 October 2009

Commission considers that its decision on livret A and livret bleu has been implemented and closes infringement procedure against France on livret A and livret bleu

The European Commission has closed an infringement procedure under Article 226 of the EC Treaty after France complied with its obligation to give all banks the possibility to distribute "livret A" and "livret bleu" tax-free saving books. On 10 May 2007 (see IP/07/641 ), the Commission had required France to put an end to the special rights granted to Banque Postale, Caisse d'Épargne and Crédit Mutuel for the distribution of these savings products. Since 1 January 2009, a significant number of new "livret A" accounts have been opened in banks which are now enabled to distribute these accounts and the brokerage fees have been cut by nearly half. Moreover, since opening "livret A" and "livret bleu" to all banks, the amount of savings increased by 14% from €164 billion in December 2008 to €187.3 billion in April 2009.

Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes commented: “Thanks to the Commission's action, any bank in France can now distribute the tax-free " livret A". Consumers have benefitted from greater competition in the French retail banking market. Moreover, contrary to doom and gloom criticism at the time of the 2007 decision, the reform has benefitted the financing of social housing, the purpose of the " livret A" system, by boosting significantly the amount of funds collected and allowing cheaper administration of the system.”

The "livret A" and the " livret bleu" are tax exempted savings products that were distributed exclusively by three French banking groups, which, in return for an intermediary’s fee, transferred the sums collected to the " Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations". The latter uses them to finance social housing. More than one French citizen out of two has such a savings book, with total savings now exceeding €187 billion.

In June 2006, the Commission opened proceedings under Article 86 of the EC Treaty, against France regarding the selective distribution of the "livret A" and "livret bleu" (see IP/06/746 ). On 10 May 2007, the Commission required France to put, within 9 months, an end to the special rights granted to three banks for the distribution of these saving books (" livret A " distributed by Banque Postale and Caisse d'Épargne and " livret bleu " by Crédit Mutuel). The Commission considered that the exclusive distribution rights were distorting competition and were not necessary to achieve their legitimate objective, the financing of social housing.

More than a year after the Commission's decision, France had not implemented any changes. Consequently, on 5 June 2008, the Commission initiated infringement proceedings under Article 226 of the EC Treaty with a letter of formal notice sent to France for failure to implement the 2007 decision.

On 1 January 2009, the French authorities put into effect a reform of " livret A " and " livret bleu " distribution. Since that date, any bank established in France can distribute these products and the brokerage fee paid by the French State to distributing banks has been significantly reduced. Since 1 January, a significant number of customers opened " livret A " accounts with other banks than the three historical distributing banks. This shows that the legislative steps taken by France in reaction to the Commission's decision have effectively ended the selective distribution of France's most popular savings accounts to the benefit of many citizens.

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