The European Union’s Telecom Council of Ministers voted on Monday to open up some of the continent’s postal sector to competition, but to the dismay of industry groups shied away from complete liberalisation.

Discussing a proposal from the European Commission, the Council voted to open up the market for letters weighing over 100g in 2003 and over 50g in 2006. However, the complete liberalisation suggested for 2009 will require further legislation, ministers decided. The average weight of letters in the EU is thought to be around 20g.

The agreement pleased France, the member state most opposed to market reform, but did not receive the support of Finland and the Netherlands, both keen to see total liberalisation. The legislation still requires the thumbs up from the European parliament.

Fritz Bolkestein, the commissioner who initially proposed the legislation, was pleased with the decision. “The Commission does not intend to go any further than what has now been proposed,” he said. “We will next come into play in 2006, when I will advise my successor.”

The EC has been keen to introduce more competition into the postal market since 1989. Bolkestein argued that, with the latest round of legislation, over 50% of the sector would be liberalised by 2006. In addition, nearly all outgoing cross-border mail will be opened up in 2003.

However, industry groups were dismayed by the delays in liberalisation. “This means that the market will stay closed until 2009 and we don’t know what will happen after that,” complained Rutger Goethard from the Platform for Postal Reform, a newly formed pressure group whose members include FEDMA.

News source: Financial Times