Competition on the postal services market is becoming fiercer but is still developing slowly. "Meaningful competition still has to emerge," states the European Commission in its latest report on the sector, released at the end of December. Market shares of competitors, although on the increase, remain at a low level even in member states that have fully liberalised their postal markets.

The report scrutinises the application of the Postal Directive (97/67/EC amended by 2002/39/EC) during the period 2006-2008. On 1 January 2006, the reserved area was reduced to 50 grams. The Commission notes that all the member states have transposed Directive 2002/39/EC, but that practical application of certain provisions is sometimes problematical.

Germany is the fourth member state (after Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom) to have fully liberalised its postal market (on 1 January 2008). These four countries acted before the deadline set in the Third Postal Directive (2008/6/EC): the last postal monopolies in the European Union will expire by 31 December 2010. Some countries have nevertheless obtained a derogation and may delay liberalisation until 31 December 2012 (Czech Republic, Greece, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Romania and Slovakia).

One of the legal barriers to market liberalisation, notes the Commission, is the VAT exemption for postal operators, which still exists to a large extent, in spite of its proposal for a relevant amendment to the Sixth VAT Directive, in 2003. In postal services, the exemption creates a distortion between similar services provided by the public operator and private operators, since only the public operator's services enjoy an exemption. The prices applied by the public operator will be more advantageous when postal services are provided to persons not entitled to a VAT deduction (individuals, banks, insurance companies, charities). These consumers may not recover the...

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