On 15 September, the European Parliament voted and adopted MEP Markus Ferber’s own initiative report on the application of the Postal Services Directive at its plenary session in Strasbourg. The report had previously been adopted by the Parliament’s Committee for Transport and Tourism (TRAN). The vote was preceded by a debate on 14 September, at which the Report was introduced by the rapporteur, MEP Ferber, discussed by the European Commissioner for Financial Stability, Financial Services and the Capital Markets Union, Valdis Dombrovskis, and debated by MEPs. In general, the report was praised by MEPs across political groups, as offering nuanced solutions that balanced the different factors at play in the postal services sector.
Flexibility and competition in the postal services sector
The key elements of the report are the need to balance the universal service provision obligation against the need for flexibility in the sector, which is rapidly developing. The report stresses the need to encourage competition in the sector, and argues the national regulators must be strengthened in order to ensure that they are capable of enforcing this competition. It called on the Commission to further clarify the definition of universal service, in order to provide greater clarity to national regulators, and to avoid disparities in service provision between member states.
From the point of view of consumers, the report identified three key priorities to improve their rights in this sector. These were, firstly, the improvement of transparency in pricing, delivery options and quality of service, secondly, the introduction of trust labels, and, thirdly, the provision of simple and efficient cross-border mechanisms for consumer redress. Ecommerce Europe sees all three priorities as important to the development of better services in this sector. It is clear that digitalization is changing current delivery value chains, and this has a direct impact on costs and business models. Online commerce shifts the focus of delivery to the demands and needs of the modern consumer. Ecommerce Europe also believes that it is essential to harmonize the currently fragmented market. To reduce market distortions, the collaboration of all stakeholders in the sector on all levels is necessary. Open and interoperable standards should also be the norm.
In his statement, MEP Ferber, the rapporteur, stressed the importance of the universal service provision obligation, and lamented cases where the universal service provision exempted large areas of the geographical territory from the obligation to provide daily services. He argued that legislation must be adapted to reflect the changes in consumer behavior in the sector, in particular as a result of changes in technology. Finally, he emphasized the need for greater competition in the sector, in order to ensure a level playing field between providers.
Ecommerce Europe also notes that there is a lack of a playing field from service providers on a global level. Ecommerce Europe believes that costs and subsidies should be tailored to real circumstances, and currently this is not the case. For instance, some countries are currently benefitting from an outdated UPU (Universal Postal Union) termination fee system, granting development aid such as subsidies, to the disadvantage of online trade in Europe. For example, this is the case for China, which is still listed as a developing country, leaving Europe to be flooded with cheaper parcels via Chinese post.
The Commission’s Proposal on parcel delivery services and Ecommerce Europe’s perspective
Commissioner Dombrovskis also stressed that the postal services sector is undergoing rapid development, with the number of letters being sent declining, while the number of parcels being sent increases as a result of the expansion of e-commerce. The Commissioner also discussed the Proposal for a Regulation on cross-border parcel delivery services, which, he stated, is a core component of the EU’s strategy to stimulate cross-border e-commerce. He described three key areas in which this proposal would help to achieve this. First, it will help to ensure that national regulators are kept aware of all postal operators active within their member state, so that they can more effectively oversee the proper functioning of the sector. Secondly, it seeks to promote greater price transparency, which will in turn allow national regulators to assess the fairness of pricing. Finally, it will require non-discriminatory third party access to be available to universal service providers’ cross-border networks.
Ecommerce Europe has recently developed in-depth recommendations on how to innovate the European parcel delivery market. It is a fact that e-commerce is changing postal and parcel markets. Global e-commerce streams are revolutionizing shopping, but the current parcel streams are not fit to accommodate this. Almost one in five EU citizens identifies cheaper delivery prices as the main improvement that would encourage more online shopping from sellers located cross-border in the EU. Similarly, more than a third of online merchants view higher costs of cross-border delivery compared to domestic delivery as an obstacle when selling online abroad. For these reasons, Ecommerce Europe has proposed workable solutions for better parcel delivery in Europe, with its newly published Manifesto, which is focused on harmonization, labeling and interoperability.
Moving forward, the Commission’s proposal for a regulation on cross-border parcel services will be debated in the Parliament and the Council, and it is hoped that it will be possible to adopt the proposal during the Maltese presidency of the EU (January-June 2017). As the proposal moves through the legislative process, Ecommerce Europe will continue to work on behalf of its members for a regulation that helps to create a level playing field in the sector, improves price oversights, and puts in place high quality standardized rules that provide for quality services.