Opening up EU mail

LUXEMBOURG (AFP ) – EU telecommunications ministers gave the green light yesterday to end state monopolies for delivering letters, the European Union’s presidency announced. The measure will come into effect on January 1, 2011, although 11 EU member states will get a two-year grace period, said Herve Novelli, French minister of state for businesses and foreign trade, after reaching agreement with his EU colleagues over lunch. The EU-27 were to formally rubber-stamp the deal during their afternoon session in Luxembourg. «Some (countries) wanted to move faster,» said Novelli, but the ministers above all wanted to reach a compromise which could be agreed unanimously, he added. If a member state wishes to end the state monopoly earlier, as has been the case in some countries, they are at liberty to do so. The 11 nations who do not have to enact the measure until December 31, 2012 are: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania and Slovakia – all EU newcomers who have joined since 2004 – plus Greece and Luxembourg. The European postal sector was opened to competition 10 years ago for the delivery of packages weighing more than 350 grams. The measure was extended in 2003 to items of more than 100 grams and in 2006 to letters weighing more than 50 grams. The European Commission had proposed to do away with state monopolies for the delivery of letters weighing less than 50 grams by 2009 while guaranteeing postal delivery services throughout each country. The European Union’s executive arm is eager to build on the perceived success of the United Kingdom, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden, which have already opened their postal market to competition.