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Postal liberalization set for delay

Members of a key committee in the European Parliament are set to demand a delay in reforms as plans to subject Europe's postal sector to full liberalization by 2009 sparks fury among postal workers across the continent.

Plans, presented by EU Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy in October 2006, to open up Europe's €88 billion ($118.3 billion) mail sector to full competition, had intimated a near end to the already nearly 20 year long battle to break the stranglehold of Europe's powerful national postal monopolies. But opposition to the proposal is gaining territory.

The Commission first published a White Paper on postal services in 1988, but it was another nine years before the first Postal Services Directive aimed at gradually opening up the market to competition from private firms in order to make postal services cheaper, faster and more efficient – similar to what was done in telecoms – was adopted. While the directive, and a second one adopted in 2002, succeeded in opening up a number of postal services, they stopped short of allowing competition for the delivery of letters weighing less than 50 grammes, creating a lucrative 'reserved area' for incumbents in return for them providing citizens with a universal service and, de facto, making it difficult for new operators to enter the market.

The Commission's most recent proposal aimed to put an end to this situation in all member states by 2009, but a campaign to delay liberalization, spearheaded by monopolistic postal operators in France, Belgium and Luxembourg, has won backing from operators in Italy, Spain, Greece, Poland, Hungary and a number of other new member states, as well as from many members of the European Parliament. Nevertheless, operators in Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and the UK, where liberalization has already begun or been finalized, remain adamant that other EU countries respect the 2009 deadline. (