Euro MPs appeased by post compromise

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Series Details Vol 3, No 2 (16.01.97)
Publication Date 16/01/1997
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Communications ministers appear to have bought off the European Parliament's fierce opposition to postal liberalisation.

Following the ministerial agreement in mid-December to delay any significant opening-up of the EU's mail services until at least 2003, MEPs are unlikely to hold up the legislation.

'While I am not 100% happy with the Council decision, I am realistic enough to realise that this is probably the best deal on offer,' said Brian Simpson, the British Socialist MEP who is drafting the Parliament's opinion on the proposal. 'I have not seen the details yet, but the gist of the decision is something I can live with,' he added.

Under the December deal, from next year member states will permit competition for delivery of letters weighing more than 350 grammes and costing more than five times the standard letter rate. However, competition for the more important delivery of direct and cross-border mail would only begin in 2003 if ministers decide three years earlier to introduce it.

Simpson is still waiting for the details of the compromise before he takes a final decision, but believes it could be possible for the Parliament to withdraw those amendments which are now superfluous. Once this has been done, he hopes to take the directive through Parliament's economic and monetary affairs committee in March, before it is voted on at the April plenary meeting.

Meanwhile, mystery still surrounds the whereabouts of the European Commission's promised notice specifying how the Union's normal rules of competition will be applied to the postal sector.

Competition Commissioner Karel van Miert pledged to publish it at the end of last year, but his industry policy colleague Martin Bangemann made it clear after the December ministerial meeting that it would not be released until early in 1997.

The notice has still not left the Commission's services, but its progress is being closely watched by both proponents and opponents of liberalisation. Big postal customers and express delivery companies are hoping for a commitment from the Commission to prevent the cross-subsidising of parcel delivery services from post offices' monopoly profits.

For its part, Parliament is sticking to its position that the notice should be withdrawn altogether. A week before the directive was agreed by ministers, MEPs gave their support to a report from centre-right French MEP Georges de Brémond d'Ars calling for the notice to be scrapped.

'The notice is still there,' said Simpson. 'The Commission has said it will not act in contradiction to the Council decision, but it is still hanging there like the sword of Damocles. The Commission would be unwise to act against an agreement in such a difficult and complex dossier.'

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