EduBourseActualitésFrequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on the postal sector and EU Postal Policy

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on the postal sector and EU Postal Policy

Pierre Perrin-Monlouis Dernière mise à jour: 20 octobre 2021

Why is it necessary to create an internal market for the postal sector?

Postal services are a key element of the so called network industries (energy, transport and telecommunications) which were opened to competition in the 1990s in accordance with Treaty provisions providing for the free movement of products and services. Prior to the 1997 Directive, postal services were often fragmented across the EU. Ownership was usually vested in public corporations and some services within the sector were open to competition (express services) while others were not (letter mail). At the same time, the sector as a whole was operating at a loss while much of its infrastructure required modernisation and fresh investment.

In order to overcome these shortcomings and to put the sector on a firmer footing, a new approach was needed. Retention of the status quo was not a viable option as it would perpetuate fragmentation and possibly lead to stagnation in the sector. Creating an internal market on the other hand was expected to complement similar initiatives in parallel sectors (network industries), reconcile the interest of postal users and service providers and pave the way towards a more sustainable, adaptable and innovative postal sector.

Is creating an internal market for postal services more likely to disrupt and distort the operation of the postal sector?

The internal market is slowly taking shape and assuming that it will be completed by 2009, postal operators and users will have had a period of 12 years to adjust to the necessary changes. All major changes are being phased in as the process continues and their impact is carefully monitored.

Rather than disrupting the sector, Community policy tries to reconcile the interests of a number of key stakeholders – incumbents, the current postal operators, “would be” new entrants and users/consumers and to strike the right balance between increasing competition and the diminution of existing monopolies.

Current rules on access (to postal services) for users, quality of service standards and pricing levels are all designed to ensure that citizens and businesses get value for money while at the same time providing postal operators with a stable environment and the opportunity to invest in new products and services.

What benefits has the internal market generated for citizens?

Citizens continue to be significant users of postal services and their interests are being protected in a number of different ways. For example, as regards the costs of postal services, the Directive establishes that prices must be both affordable so as to ensure maximum access and geared to costs thus minimising opportunities for excessive charges while at the same time ensuring the economic viability of the service. It also stipulates that postal operators providing universal postal services must not apply discriminatory tariffs and allows for the application of uniform tariffs.

As regards quality, the Postal Directive requires Member States to set (quality) standards governing access to postal services and delivery targets. In the event of failures to deliver on these targets, Member States may take corrective action including the imposition of fines. The Directive establishes quality standards for cross border mail. It also stipulates that postal users should have a simple and low cost (but effective and accountable) redress system which can deal with their complaints about access or quality of service.

Survey data shows that three out of four citizens/ consumers are satisfied with the standard of (postal) services provided to them and rank postal services as number one compared to other services of general interest.

Although the Directive provides definitions for key concepts, it contains a number of terms/elements which are difficult to grasp. Two examples are universal service and the reserved area.

Universal Service

Universal implies something which is available or accessible everywhere and to everyone and on the same conditions. In practice, this means relatively easy access to certain postal services, the most common being letter and parcel post. In other words, citizens/businesses located in rural areas should enjoy broadly the same or at least comparable access to that available to their urban counterparts.

Within the postal sector, universal services involve the permanent and obligatory provision of a service at sufficient points within a national boundary so as to take account of the needs of users. Such services must also meet specified quality targets and be available at affordable prices.

Reserved Area

This is the segment of postal services which is reserved to those postal operators (which may be either public or private) providing universal services within national boundaries. In practice, this means that letter mail/parcel under certain weight and cost limits can only be handled by those operators who are bound by universal service obligations described above. The rationale behind the reserved area is that it is an appropriate form of compensation for taking on the uneconomic burden of universal service, when this has burden been shown to exist. The size of the reserved area is being progressively reduced and might not be retained in the context of a fully liberalised sector.

Reform of the postal sector has been underway for sometime. What has been achieved since the first Directive was adopted in 1997?

The first thing to note is that the reform process is on track. The sector has moved forward under increased market opening and in key areas is becoming more competitive and efficient. Challenging universal service obligations continue to be met and customers are broadly satisfied with the quality of services. The regulatory framework set out in the Postal Directive is in place and national regulators are well placed to ensure compliance by postal operators.

The pace of competitive entry is slower than originally anticipated and incumbent postal operators have in most cases retained their dominant positions in sub-markets open to competition. The Commission and Member States are continuing to identify and propose ways to dismantle remaining market barriers and a study by external consultants on these issues has been presented recently.

Have prices of postal services increased or decreased as a result of EU Postal policy?

Prices for consumer letter mail have generally increased in recent years. Prices for business users (which generate three quarters of mail volumes) have decreased overall. In general, consumers are satisfied with the quality of postal services and find that prices although rising, are at a generally acceptable level. However, prices for consumer letter mail vary significantly across Europe. As of early 2004, the average price of a 20 gram stamp for first class letter service ranged from €0.15 in Malta to €0.65 in Finland. In general, higher than average stamp prices do not deter customers from using postal services and their average annual postage bill (in the 6 most expensive Member States) would come to only about €47 per capita or about one-tenth of one percent of annual income.

How are letter postal services facing up to the challenge posed by new forms of communication such as e-mail?

Postal services are continuing to evolve and this evolution is being shaped by changes in closely related communications, advertising and transportation sectors. While it is true that the use of e-mail has increased in recent years and that letter mail is declining as a percentage of overall message volumes, many key sectors, such as e-commerce, publishing, mail order, insurance, banking and advertising depend on the postal infrastructure. Businesses are increasingly finding mail to be an exceptionally effective medium for forging and strengthening commercial relationships. Nowadays, the bulk of mail deliveries are no longer dominated by private, person to person communications but by business to business and business to customer communications.

In short, mail continues to have a bright future as a key communication channel.

What role do national postal regulators play in the implementation of the Community postal policy?

National regulators are entrusted with a wide range of regulatory functions which stem from the Postal Directive and national legislation. These extend from more specific functions such as ensuring compliance with quality standards and price setting to broader and more far reaching tasks such as creating the conditions for the growth of competition and paving the way for new entrants in to the sector.

The office of postal regulator is now well established across the EU and most are endowed with the sufficient resources and the power to monitor and sanction postal operators for non compliance with their obligations.

What are the next policy steps towards the internal postal market?

Following the mandate established by the Postal Directive, the European Commission is currently working on the review of the sector and the preparation of a proposal that should confirm, if appropriate, the date of 2009 for the full accomplishment of the internal market for postal services or determining relevant alternative steps towards that aim in the light of the results of the review.

This review will in particular look at the impact of the proposal and specifically at the impact of further market opening for the provision of the universal service in each Member State. The preparatory process will include dedicated undertaken by external consultants as well as extensive consultation of stakeholders and postal users.

Pierre Perrin-Monlouis
Pierre Perrin-Monlouis
Fondateur de Rente et Patrimoine (cabinet de gestion de patrimoine), Pierre Perrin-Monlouis est un analyste et trader pour compte propre. Il vous fait profiter de son expérience en trading grâce à ses analyses financières et décrypte pour vous les actualités des marchés. Son approche globale des marchés combine à la fois l'analyse technique et l'analyse fondamentale sur l'ensemble des marchés : crypto, forex, actions et matières premières.