Postal services in the EU: A fast-changing reality

08-09-2016

Although postal services are a traditional sector of the economy, they continue to play an important role in the activities of EU citizens and businesses. Their contribution is significant not only because they ensure the delivery of letters and parcels, but also because they are a source of social well-being, cohesion and employment. In the early 1990s, in a bid to modernise postal services, the EU embarked on reforming their mission and framework. A first reference directive was adopted in 1997 and subsequently amended in 2002 and 2008. It set the goal of establishing a single market for postal services, then gradually liberalising it and ultimately setting up a universal postal service for the entire EU based on uniform standards of quality, pricing and financing. Since January 2013, the postal market has been fully liberalised, and initiatives have been launched to integrate the parcel delivery market, which has been growing fast as a result of the rise in online purchases. In 2013, the European Commission prepared a roadmap for improving cross-border parcel delivery, and in May 2016 it tabled a proposal for a regulation on this subject. A legal framework spelling out the rules for independent regulatory oversight, authorisation regimes and compliance with quality standards has progressively been put in place. While the universal postal service has been established successfully, competition has developed at a less satisfactory pace, in particular in the letters market. This is mainly due to the decline in the sector's attractiveness, driven by falling letter volumes in a period of burgeoning electronic communication and commerce. The patterns and perception of postal services are shifting, raising ever more urgently the question of their adaptation to the new realities, technologies and customer needs. The changes this would bring could have an impact on the universal postal service as well.

Although postal services are a traditional sector of the economy, they continue to play an important role in the activities of EU citizens and businesses. Their contribution is significant not only because they ensure the delivery of letters and parcels, but also because they are a source of social well-being, cohesion and employment. In the early 1990s, in a bid to modernise postal services, the EU embarked on reforming their mission and framework. A first reference directive was adopted in 1997 and subsequently amended in 2002 and 2008. It set the goal of establishing a single market for postal services, then gradually liberalising it and ultimately setting up a universal postal service for the entire EU based on uniform standards of quality, pricing and financing. Since January 2013, the postal market has been fully liberalised, and initiatives have been launched to integrate the parcel delivery market, which has been growing fast as a result of the rise in online purchases. In 2013, the European Commission prepared a roadmap for improving cross-border parcel delivery, and in May 2016 it tabled a proposal for a regulation on this subject. A legal framework spelling out the rules for independent regulatory oversight, authorisation regimes and compliance with quality standards has progressively been put in place. While the universal postal service has been established successfully, competition has developed at a less satisfactory pace, in particular in the letters market. This is mainly due to the decline in the sector's attractiveness, driven by falling letter volumes in a period of burgeoning electronic communication and commerce. The patterns and perception of postal services are shifting, raising ever more urgently the question of their adaptation to the new realities, technologies and customer needs. The changes this would bring could have an impact on the universal postal service as well.