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European Commissioner for Internal Market and
High Level Conference on Postal Market Reform
Mrs Kroes, Ministers, Honourable Members, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you all for coming here to Brussels to the European Commission's High Level Conference on creating the Internal Market for Postal Services together. I am delighted to see all key stakeholders of the postal sector here – from governments, parliament, industry, consumers to trade unions – and I am also pleased to see so many familiar faces.
This conference marks the "kick-off" – not for the final of the EURO 2008 (which takes place on 29th June) – but for the final step of market opening; this phase is supposed to be the most decisive and difficult in a gradual and carefully prepared process. The remaining 50g weight step – which will now be fully opened to competition - constitutes 72% of the total letter post volume. In other words, the full liberalisation that will now be achieved with the Postal Directive concerns a market of roughly € 39 billion. Postal reform and the opening of the postal market has been a consensual and forward looking project that has been endorsed by Parliament and Council. And today's conference is forward looking.
Your presence makes of this conference not only very high level event but it shows that you agree with the basic objective that underpins this conference: That a true Internal Postal Market cannot and must not be driven solely by Brussels but that it requires all of us to work together:
National governments, parliaments and national regulators will now have to transpose the rules of the Postal Directive into their national laws, they will have to apply these laws, and they will have to enforce them where necessary. Let me be very clear: The transposition of the Postal Directive will be a test for both Member States and the Commission as to whether we take postal reform seriously.
We have to take all necessary steps to ensure that there is real market opening. And we need to start at once. I have heard some say that the Postal Directive does not need to be implemented right away, that the transposition period is fairly long, with still two and a half years time to go, or in some cases even four and a half years. But ladies and gentlemen, such an attitude will not only lead to delay. It also does not do justice to the enormous and rapid changes in the world of communications.
Postal services are a core part of today's communications sector. The real threat for postal services today is not open markets but the failure to adapt to the new means of communication. Market opening, on the contrary, is the answer to the challenges ahead. Already the previous Postal Directive made it abundantly clear: postal monopolies must be the exception, not the rule.
Let us recall why we embarked on postal reform in the first place. Market opening is not an end in itself. It is the means through which we pursue the broader objective of a high quality, highly efficient and sustainable postal sector adapted to the needs of the 21st century. There is simply no alternative to innovation, greater focus on customer needs and further postal reform. Nearly 500 million citizens and consumers require well-functioning postal services; postal services are a core network industry, a true service of general economic interest. I am sensitive to all the interests connected to this. This is why we have from the start sought to achieve the greatest possible consensus on a well prepared market opening. And we have achieved a very broad consensus – which is rare in today's policy making.
This afternoon a panel of operators, customers and users will address the issue of how to make the most of what the new environment offers. I look forward to hearing how innovators, risk takers, people who drive the economy see the future of the postal sector in the coming years. And I am sure that they have very interesting and innovative ideas on how the postal landscape will look like in 2011. After that, we will discuss the regulatory challenges that lie ahead.
This brings me to level playing field. A level playing field is certainly the pre-condition for a true internal market of postal services. And while everybody goes along with the idea of a level playing field, there seem to be very different interpretations of what a level playing field actually is. In the worst case scenario, the transposition period is used to invent creative market entry barriers. Barriers that are then concealed under a blanket which is inappropriately called a level playing field. Paying lip service to free markets and introducing protectionism through the back door is not acceptable.
I find it particularly unacceptable that Member States who were to the forefront in pressing for open markets would now back away from the reforms they have benefitted from. No one is fooled by arguments that are advanced in the name of general interest. The fact that these events have been triggered in one of the most important postal markets in the EU has an inevitable headline effect. It closes markets. Protectionism wins. The EU economy loses. If all Member States were to copy this approach then postal markets would become more closed instead of more open. I cannot accept that. We have all worked hard to find solutions and compromises that allow the further freeing up of the provision of postal services. Yet the inevitable consequence of certain measures taken in some Member States is the opposite. In addition, it puts enormous political pressure on other Member States to follow suit. I cannot allow the unravelling of years of hard effort by many postal operators and their employees. They have a right to expect a level playing field and I will do my utmost to ensure they get one. We are carefully observing what is happening and we will not hesitate to use all means at our disposal to make a competitive and sustainable postal market a reality.
The European Parliament and the Member States have asked that the Commission provides assistance in the implementation of the Postal Directive. We will do so. This Conference is only a small but important part of this process.
We are helping the process of translating the Postal Directive into national law and practice with a series of formal and informal actions, working with our colleagues in all EU capitals. I want to emphasise one particularly important point on transposition: The smooth transition to a fully open and competitive market with a level playing field will require strong National Postal Regulatory Authorities.
The Postal Directive further strengthens the role of Regulators, their decisions play a key role in the rapidly changing postal environment, and for us, cooperation with and between Regulators is of key importance. Member States should, therefore, provide their Regulator with all necessary resources, in terms of staffing, expertise and financial means.
We simply cannot afford not to invest our efforts in postal Regulators. We owe this to our economies at large, we owe it to the prosperity of the Internal Market. To invest in Regulators is also what Member States have agreed to do in the Postal Directive. In the world of Regulators – and I can tell you a lot on financial regulators – we must not treat postal Regulators like the neglected stepchild of network regulation.
If we look at other sectors where market opening already happened years ago, we have to acknowledge that creating competition in sectors that were governed by monopolies for decades is not an easy task. I do not need to draw your attention to what is happening in the telecommunications sector, with which postal services have a historic link. Sector specific regulation has to play a major role, as has competition policy. My colleague Mrs Kroes will address this specifically in her intervention. Market opening has gained a momentum, but competition is still behind the rapidly changing technical environment.
Clearly, today's postal sector is very different from what it was only a decade ago. The traditional borders of the sector have become blurred. The postal sector is at the crossroads of communications, advertising and logistics. The role of letter post has shifted from two way correspondence to a medium for one way information. Electronic commerce has increased the need for reliable delivery. Postal operators are active in other Member States and globally. This is why our Postal Agenda needs to be far broader; and this is why I propose that we create this Postal Agenda together.
What we are doing in Europe is carefully observed worldwide. If we can't do the job properly – how could we expect other markets to embrace our model?
In just one month's time, the postal world will meet in Geneva for the 24th Universal Postal Union Congress. The developments in the EU will have to be taken account of by the Congress. The influence of postal modernisation, where the EU Member States have taken the lead, on the revision of the Universal Postal Convention and the special Agreements in this context, is unquestionable. I am sure that the European postal voice will be a strong one at this Congress.
I am an optimist. That is why I have always believed that postal reform will become a reality. I have always believed that this business – which is a people's business in the true sense – has a sustainable future. I have always seen postal reform as a challenge and not as a risk. After all, we have agreed on this assessment; and my insistence on the need for the Member States to respect both the letter and the spirit of the Postal Directive and Community law is not only fundamentally important from a legal point of view, but also from a political point of view.
Postal services in Europe have a long history: and it will also have a flourishing future if we manage to complete the Internal Market for Postal services.
I would agree with a former president who said some 30 years ago: "The market is not an invention of capitalism. It has existed for centuries. It is an invention of civilization." Who said this was not a radical neoliberal, but a reformer in the true sense. Certainly Mikhail Gorbachev referred to much broader changes than those which we are addressing today. But if we are to have postal services that count also in the future, we need to achieve a true postal market.
Your discussions today will address important questions. You will bring different perspectives in the debate and I appreciate that. The world of postal services is neither black nor white – as we have seen very clearly in the discussions on the Postal Directive. It is not grey either. It is as colourful as the colours of its operators and we want to see even more colours around. The future is after all bright, if we work together to make of a competitive, customer focused postal market a reality.
Thank you for your attention.