02 August 2007 | Helen Gilbert
Postal operators could retain their current monopolies on the EU post market until 2011, after MEPs voted to delay full liberalisation by two years.
The European Commission (EC) had proposed to fully open the EU market to competition on 1 January 2009. But last month, on the first reading of the Postal Directive, 512 MEPs voted in favour of extending the date by two years.
The UK market was fully liberalised in 2006 but national operators in other EU countries retain a monopoly on the delivery of mail under 50g. It is hoped full liberalisation across the EU will increase competition leading to a cheaper, faster and more innovative service.
But MEPs believe new member states and those with a difficult topography or numerous islands will require extra time to find ways to maintain a universal service.
The delay has disappointed The Free and Fair Post Initiative (FFPI), a lobby group that represents European users of postal services. Philippe Bodson, FFPI president, said: "We are convinced 2009 is the right time for ending postal monopolies across Europe and we hope the council will work towards an agreement that will be closer to the spirit and the text of the EC proposal."
Meanwhile, in the UK, regulator Postcomm has proposed to reject Royal Mail's application to charge large mailers different prices depending on where in the country their mail is delivered, claiming it would lead to "unreasonable changes for customers".
But the firm, which has been hit by strike action over the past month, has stood by its decision to modernise the market. In a statement it said: "Royal Mail is losing business because its costs and therefore its prices are too high. It has lost 40 per cent of bulk business to rival postal operators."