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Brussels, 26th January 2010

State aid: Commission completes its investigation into the unlimited guarantee for the French Post Office

The European Commission has completed its investigation into the unlimited state guarantee enjoyed by the French Post Office (La Poste) because of its special status as a public body, following the adoption by the French Parliament of the law on the public enterprise La Poste and on postal activities. The Commission has concluded that the conversion of La Poste into a public limited company (société anonyme), as envisaged in this law, will have the effect of removing the guarantee.

EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said: "In view of the fact that postal markets will soon be fully open to competition, I welcome the adoption of legal measures to end a state guarantee for La Poste, which also covers activities outside its public service remit."

In 2007 the Commission launched an in-depth investigation into the state guarantee implicitly granted to La Poste (see IP/07/1572 ). The Commission considers that La Poste enjoys an implicit state guarantee because of its status. The guarantee is unlimited, provided free of charge, and is not confined to universal postal service activities but also covers La Poste's commercial activities, thus conferring an economic advantage over its competitors, which must operate without such a guarantee. The guarantee therefore distorts competition on the postal markets, which makes it incompatible with the common market.

On 4 October 2006, under EU rules on existing state aid schemes, the Commission had recommended that France withdraw the guarantee by 31 December 2008 (see IP/06/1305 ). However, given that the discussions with the French authorities continued until October 2009, and in view of the time required to approve the legal instruments which would have the effect of withdrawing the guarantee, the Commission takes the view that it is reasonable to ask the French authorities to remove the guarantee by 31 March 2010 at the latest.

The Commission's decision does not at all call into question the public service mission or public ownership of La Poste. The Commission is neutral with regard to the ownership arrangements adopted in the Member States. It takes the view that the guarantee enjoyed by La Poste because of its special status, and not because of its ownership arrangements, is state aid incompatible with the common market which must be withdrawn. European competition rules must apply equally to public and private enterprises.

Moreover, the Commission concluded that the conversion of La Poste into a public limited company ( société anonyme ) will remove de facto the unlimited guarantee that it enjoys.

The conversion of La Poste into a public limited company on 1 March 2010, as provided for by the Law on the public enterprise La Poste ( loi sur l'entreprise publique La Poste ) adopted on 12 January 2010, is therefore a measure that will remove the state aid in question.

The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under case number C 56/2007 in the State Aid Register on the DG Competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. The electronic newsletter State aid weekly e-news lists the most recent decisions on state aid published in the Official Journal and on the website.

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