Good postal services are a vital part of communication in the EU internal market. In 2009, the EU's postal sector accounted for an annual turnover of €72 billion, representing 0.62 % of the EU's GDP and about 1.5 million jobs in the EU. Other sectors such as e-commerce, publishing, mail order, insurance, banking and advertising depend heavily on the postal infrastructure. Postal services encompass a variety of services, from letters to parcels to value-added services.
One of the Commission's, and more specifically the Competition DG's, core tasks is to promote and safeguard effective competition in the postal services sector. Promoting more competition in this sector is also important in reaching the Europe 2020 goals for sustainable growth in a resource-efficient and more competitive economy.
The Commission has the power to do this in two ways: by opening up the postal services markets, and by enforcing competition rules where relevant.
Opening up the postal services markets
The EU law on postal services consists of three postal directives: Directive 97/67/EC of 1997, as amended by Directive 2002/39 and Directive 2008/6/EC. This law gradually liberalised postal services. It also guaranteed citizens that postal services would remain accessible everywhere and to everyone under the same conditions (i.e. the universal postal service). Customers can thus benefit from new forms of services, higher quality and lower prices provided by both the incumbents and alternative postal operators. At the same time, the universal service will be maintained. To that end, universal service providers can be compensated for the net cost of providing the universal service when this net cost represents an unfair burden for the operator.
Under the third postal directive, 16 Member States had to open their postal markets fully by 31 December 2010. The remaining eleven will complete liberalisation by the end of 2012. Some Member States (Estonia, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Sweden and the United Kingdom) had already fully opened their postal markets ahead of the EU deadline. Full liberalization allows new operators and innovative services to appear, thus promoting competition in terms of quality and price of postal services (see MEMO/12/43).
Consumers need to know that the quality of service will not worsen as the postal markets open up. They should enjoy more reliable and higher quality postal services as reserved areas (i.e. parts of the postal market where only the incumbents were allowed to provide postal services) are gradually removed and competition grows.
The current requirements for high quality universal service (such as density of post offices and letter boxes) are fully maintained, and closely monitored by national authorities. When competitors enter the market, universal service providers come under pressure to become more efficient and more customer-focused. Consumers then benefit, as senders and receivers of mail, from a more quality-focused service. They should also benefit from savings passed on to them through cost reductions for business users and large volume mailers such as banks or utility companies. In any case, the universal service obligations guarantee that all Member States will ensure the continued full coverage and affordability of postal services.