Brussels, 25 January 2012
State aid: Commission orders recovery of overcompensation paid to Bpost
The European Commission has closed the investigation it opened in 2009 (see IP/09/1133) regarding a series of measures granted by Belgium to the Belgian Post (BPost) between 1992 and 2010. The Commission has found that part of the aid granted was compatible with the internal market and has ordered the recovery of incompatible aid.
First, the Commission found that a relief of €3.8 billion pension liabilities granted to BPost by the Belgian state in 1997 did not confer any undue advantage to BPost since it only relieved it from the excessive pension costs of civil servants.
Second, the Commission concluded that two capital injections of €297.5 and €40 million respectively were carried out under conditions that a private market investor would have accepted. These capital injections did not confer any economic advantage to BPost and are therefore in line with EU state aid rules.
In assessing the pension relief to BPost, the Commission has verified that the social security contributions borne by Belgian Post were equivalent to those of private competitors, in line with previous cases (e.g. Pension relief for civil servants working for the French Post, see IP/07/1465).
Finally, the Commission found that yearly compensations granted to the Belgian Post for the delivery of newspapers and magazines - amounting to €5.2 billion between 1992 and 2010 - partly exceeded the net cost of delivering the public service entrusted to it by the Belgian State.
The Commission assessed these yearly compensations under the 2005 Framework on services of general economic interest (SGEI), which foresees that public service providers can receive compensation for the net costs of the delivery of their public service obligations and can earn a reasonable profit, but should not be overcompensated (see OJ C 297, 29.11.2005, p.4).
The substantial profits made by BPost in activities where it still enjoyed exclusive rights until 2010 have led to an overcompensation of the postal incumbent. The Commission has therefore ordered Belgium to recover €417 million of incompatible aid.
Bpost is the incumbent postal operator in Belgium. Since 2006, the private investor CVC Capital Partners holds 50% minus 1 share, while the Belgian State remains a majority shareholder (50% plus 1 share).
Bpost has been entrusted by the State with the provision of the universal postal service and with a series of other services of general economic interest (SGEI) such as the distribution of newspapers, basic banking services or the issuing of licences to citizens. Over the investigation period, four successive management contracts have defined the conditions under which BPost has carried out its public service missions.
Since the end of 2010, the postal market in Belgium is fully liberalised and the last remaining reserved area has been abolished. Bpost therefore no longer holds monopoly rights in the postal market.
In 2003, the Commission had approved a capital injection of approximately €300 million by the Belgian State (see IP/03/1084). This decision was appealed by Bpost's foreign competitors and annulled by the EU's General Court in 2009 (case Case T-388/03 Deutsche Post and DHL International v Commission). This judgment was appealed by Belgium, but confirmed by the highest EU Court in September 2011 (C148/09, Belgium v. Deutsche Post AG and DHL International). The Commission also received complaints from Bpost's Belgian competitors active in the press distribution business. As a result, the Commission opened in 2009 a new investigation on all measures in favour of Bpost during the period 1992-2010. Today's decision closes this investigation.
The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under case number SA.14588 in the State Aid Register on the DG Competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. New publications of state aid decisions on the internet and in the Official Journal are listed in the State Aid Weekly e-News.
The Commission adopted on the same day (25 January 2012) three other State aid decisions in the Postal sector concerning Germany, France and Greece, see IP/12/45, MEMO/12/37, MEMO/12/36 and MEMO/12/39.