The European Union Directive on postal service liberalizes access to the postal market. The directive established a timeframe for progressive liberalization in two stages:
- On 1st January 2003 letters weighing less than 100 gram of which the postage cost is over three times that of a standard letter.
- On 1st January 2006 letters weighing less than 50 grams (for which the postage cost is over two and a half times that of a standard letter).
The 2008 Directive sets 1st January 2011 as the date for the full market opening by the majority of States and 1st January 2013 for the remaining States.
States must ensure that users enjoy the right to universal service including the permanent provision of postal service of a specified quality at all points in their territory at affordable prices to all users. The Member States must ensure that the density of the points of contact and the access points take account of the needs of users and that the universal service is guaranteed at least five days a week, with at least one clearance and one delivery to home or business premises.
Each State must guarantee the provision of a universal service. They must inform the Commission of the steps taken to fulfil the obligation. States may designate one or more businesses as universal service providers to cover the entire territory, subject to a periodic review.
States must determine and publish the rights and obligations assigned to the universal provider in accordance with EU law. States shall ensure that the universal provider meets the following requirements:
- offers a service guaranteeing compliance with the essential requirements;
- offers an identical service to users under comparable conditions;
- makes available without discrimination including political, religious, ideological considerations;
- it is not interrupted or stopped except in the case of force majeur;
- shall evolve in response to technical, economic and social.
Every State must ensure that users of the postal service providers are regularly given sufficiently detailed and up-to-date information by the universal service provider regarding the features of the universal services offered.
States may not grant or maintain any exclusive or special rights for the establishment and provision of postal services.
If universal provider claims and proves that the provision of the universal postal services entails an unfair financial burden, provision is made for compensation from States such as by public funding, shared costs mechanism between providers of services and users or other means compatible with the EU Treaty. Any alleged financial burden must be assessed and approved by the national regulatory authority.
Authorisation of Providers
In relation to services within the scope of the universal service, States may introduce authorization procedures, including individual licenses, in order to guarantee compliance with the essential requirements and ensure the provision of universal service.
For services outside the scope of universal service, States may introduce general authorization to guarantee compliance with essential services.
All licensing procedures, obligations, and requirements relating to postal service providers must be transparent, accessible, non-discriminatory, proportionate, precise and unambiguous, publicised and based on objective criteria.
States ensure that the fees for each of the services forming part of the universal service comply with the following principles:
- prices must be affordable and must be such that all users, independent of geographical location, and in the light of specific national conditions have access to the service;
- prices must be cost-oriented and give an incentive for an efficient universal service provision;
- application of the uniform fee shall not exclude the right of the universal service provider to conclude individual price agreements with the user;
- fees shall be transparent and non-discriminatory;
When universal service providers apply special fees, they shall apply principles of transparency and non-discrimination with regard to the fees and associated conditions.
In order to ensure the cross-border provision of the universal service, States must encourage their universal service providers to observe the following principles in their agreements on terminal dues for intra-community cross-border mail:
- terminal dues must be fixed in relation to the costs of processing and delivering incoming cross-border mail;
- levels of remuneration must be related to the quality of service;
- terminal dues must be transparent and non-discriminatory.
The universal service provider must keep separate accounts within their internal accounting systems in order to distinguish between each of the services and products which are part of the universal service and those which are not. Internal accounting systems must operate on the basis of consistently applied and objectively justifiable cost accounting principles. National regulatory authorities must ensure the cost-accounting system is verified by the competent independent body.
Quality & Standards
States must ensure that service standards in relation to the universal service are set and published in order to guarantee a postal service of good quality. Quality standards must focus on routing time, regularity and reliability of services.
Quality standards for intra-community cross-border services as laid down in Directive must be applied as follows:
- within three days for 85% of postal items in the fastest standard category;
- within five days for 97% of those items.
The day represents the date of deposit and the number is the number of working days between posting and delivery.
States must lay down quality standards for national mail and ensure they are compatible with those laid down in intra-community cross-border services.
States must lay down quality standards for national mail and must ensure they are compatible with those for intra-community cross-border services.
States must notify their quality standards for national services to the Commission, which will publish them in the same manner as standards for just the services within the EU.
States must ensure transparent, simple and inexpensive complaint procedures are put in place by all postal service providers. States must ensure that the procedures enable disputes to be settled fairly and promptly. States must encourage the development of out-of-court schemes for the resolution of disputes between service providers and users.
Implementing the Directives
The harmonization of technical standards must be continued taking account of the interests of users. The European Committee for Standardization is entrusted with drawing up technical standards applicable in the postal services on the basis of remits pursuant to Directive laying down the procedure for information in the field of technical standards and regulations.
The Commission is assisted by a committee. Each State must designate one or more national regulatory authorities for the postal sector that are legally separate and operate independently of the postal operators. States which retain ownership or control of postal service providers must ensure effective structural separation of the regulatory functions from activities associated with ownership and control.
States must inform the Commission which national regulatory authorities are designated to carry out the tasks arising from the Directive.
States must ensure that postal service providers provide all financial information concerning the provision of the universal service necessary for national regulatory authorities to ensure conformity with the provision of and decisions made in accordance with the Directive and clearly defined statistical purposes.
States must implement the Directive by 1st January 2011.