State aid cases
For about the past 10 years, the Commission has been analysing more deeply the accounts of universal service providers to ensure that they are not being overcompensated or cross-subsidising. In particular, the Commission has examined the methods postal operators use to allocate costs between universal services and other services and to calculate the financial burden of the public tasks. This deeper analysis follows the Chronopost case law, the Altmark case law and the adoption of the Community Framework for State aid in the form of public service compensation. Since the adoption of the 3rd Postal Directive, the assessment by the Commission also follows the rules laid down in Annex I to this Directive.
In January 2012, the Commission adopted four State aid decisions in the postal sector:
The Commission approved compensation of EUR 5.6 billion granted by Germany to Deutsche Post from 1990 to 1995 to cover the cost of the universal postal service. However, the Commission ordered Germany to recover from Deutsche Post incompatible aid between EUR 500 million to EUR 1 billion resulting from a combination of high regulated prices and pension relief subsidies. This aid placed Deutsche Post in a better position than its competitors (MEMO/12/37).
The Commission approved pension relief of EUR 3.8 billion from which De Post-La Poste (now Bpost) benefited through the Belgian pension reform of 1997, aligning the social contributions paid by Bpost for its statutory personnel with the private sector. However, the Commission ordered Belgium to recover EUR 417 million of incompatible aid from Bpost, since the yearly compensations received in the period 1992-2010 for public service missions resulted in some overcompensation (MEMO/12/38).
The Commission reaffirmed its objective of high quality public services by approving EUR 1.9 billion aid paid by France to La Poste to finance part of the cost to the public services of delivering press items to citizens and being present in remote areas for the period 2008-2012 (MEMO/12/36).
Finally, the Commission approved aid of EUR 52 million granted by Greece to Hellenic Post (ELTA) to contribute to financing modernisation of its public postal services until 2021. This will broaden the range of services offered on the whole territory of Greece, in particular in its peripheral regions (MEMO/12/39).
The Commission also adopted two State aid decisions in March 2012, on Royal Mail and Post Office Limited concerning the postal sector in the UK.
Royal Mail Group
The European Commission approved UK plans to relieve the Royal Mail Group (RMG) from excessive pension costs relating to its past monopoly position and to provide RMG with restructuring aid consisting of a debt reduction of GBP 1089 million (around EUR 1311 million). The Commission concluded that RMG's revised restructuring plan would ensure a sustainable future for the group in its twofold function of providing universal postal services and of granting access to its delivery network to other providers in the UK. Moreover, the plan negotiated with the Commission included appropriate measures to minimise distortions of competition induced by the aid (IP/12/260).
Post Office Limited
The European Commission authorised UK plans to grant a GBP 1155 million (around EUR 1383 million) network subsidy to the UK Post Office Ltd (POL), to keep open and modernize non-commercially viable offices, e.g. in rural areas. The Commission also endorsed the continuation, under stricter conditions, of a working capital facility ("WCF") of up to GBP 1150 million (around EUR 1377 million), which will provide POL with sufficient liquidity to carry out its public service obligations (IP/12/320).