EU law helps to protect our postal services

Without EU regulation the UK right-wing could force cuts to the postal sector, to the detriment of its employees and the public.


Over the last few years, political debate over the future of postal services in the UK has understandably been dominated by the disgraceful privatisation of the Royal Mail from 2013 onwards. This was an unnecessary and badly mishandled sell-off of a profitable public undertaking with a highly motivated and loyal workforce.  

But it is false to claim that the Government’s actions in selling-off Royal Mail, or hiving off the Post Office side of the organisation, were due to the European Union Postal Services Directive (PSD) or to EU law generally. Nor is it true that EU rules prevent a future Labour Government from taking Royal Mail back into public ownership. This is yet another example of scaremongering to try and hoodwink us into voting to leave the EU.

In fact, crucially, the Postal Services Directive requires EU Member States to ensure that all households and businesses have the right to a quality and affordable ‘universal’ postal service, subject only to exceptions that are closely regulated. This requirement includes a minimum of one delivery every working day and not less than five days per week, including in remote, rural and urban deprived areas.

There are also legal protections in the PSD for post box or other local collections and for parcel services. Royal Mail currently exceeds these standards, but if we were to leave the EU and no longer be bound by its laws, they could be removed or watered down by a right-wing dominated UK Parliament looking to facilitate cost-cutting in the postal sector to the detriment of its employees and the public.

Of course one of the core aims of EU postal policy is to open up services to market liberalisation, albeit with supposed safeguards around fair conditions of competition. Many of us have been very critical of market liberalisation as an overriding aim in itself, and there is ample evidence of the damage to employment security and terms and conditions that can result.

However, the European Commission acknowledges explicitly in its recent review of the relevant rules that, ‘the Postal Services Directive does not require any particular ownership structure’ for postal operators. Most national main postal operators in the EU are still publicly owned, either wholly or in part.

In addition, although the Commission is planning shortly to propose a limited new measure on cross-border parcel delivery and e-commerce, it has been relatively cautious in its approach to the sector, and not unsympathetic to the unfairness caused by attempted ‘cherry-picking’ of profitable services by new entrants in postal markets.

Far more of a problem is the attitude and interference of the UK regulator Ofcom, which refuses to acknowledge the financial and practical realities involved in running a ‘universal’ service, and seems determined to overstep its remit and dictate the way in which Royal Mail should handle industrial relations and employment practices.

Even in the controversial area of EU controls over state aid, the UK Government’s ideology and political choices and not the European Commission have been driving policy on postal services throughout. A clear example of this was the 2012 EU state aid decision authorising the takeover by the Government of most accrued Royal Mail pension liabilities and state-funded debt relief of over £1 billion.

The package was approved by the Commission. But as the Communication Workers Union pointed out, the state aid could have been applied for as a recognition that postal networks and services are of general public interest. Instead, the Government chose to make its application within the EU Treaty provisions on the internal market to facilitate economic activity because this helped them in continuing to pursue privatisation and restructuring plans for the Royal Mail.

Finally, we should be joining up across Europe with all those who support good public services in order to make sure our postal and delivery providers get much needed investment and protection for the future, including on making effective and sustainable use of new technology.

Traditional delivery and logistics operations are threatened by multinational online retailers who are now organising deliveries themselves with little regard for employment, environmental and quality of service standards.

As with so many other issues, this is not a campaign that can be won solely within our national borders.

Lucy Anderson is a Labour MEP for London and is leading the work of the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament on the Postal Services Directive Review.

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6 Responses to “EU law helps to protect our postal services”

  1. robert andersen

    EU law protects our services? You mean in the same way TTIP will.
    What a disgraceful left wing the UK now sports.

  2. Liz Gardiner

    In response to Robert Andersen I would urge him to consider the following:
    “What did the EU ever do for us?
    Not much, apart from: providing 57% of our trade;
    structural funding to areas hit by industrial decline;
    clean beaches and rivers;
    cleaner air;
    lead free petrol;
    restrictions on landfill dumping;
    a recycling culture;
    cheaper mobile charges;
    cheaper air travel;
    improved consumer protection and food labelling;
    a ban on growth hormones and other harmful food additives;
    better product safety;
    single market competition bringing quality improvements and better industrial performance;
    break up of monopolies;
    Europe-wide patent and copyright protection;
    no paperwork or customs for exports throughout the single market;
    price transparency and removal of commission on currency exchanges across the eurozone;
    freedom to travel, live and work across Europe;
    funded opportunities for young people to undertake study or work placements abroad;
    access to European health services;
    labour protection and enhanced social welfare;
    smoke-free workplaces;
    equal pay legislation;
    holiday entitlement;
    the right not to work more than a 48-hour week without overtime;
    strongest wildlife protection in the world;
    improved animal welfare in food production;
    EU-funded research and industrial collaboration;
    EU representation in international forums;
    bloc EEA negotiation at the WTO;
    EU diplomatic efforts to uphold the nuclear non-proliferation treaty;
    European arrest warrant;
    cross border policing to combat human trafficking, arms and drug smuggling; counter terrorism intelligence;
    European civil and military co-operation in post-conflict zones in Europe and Africa;
    support for democracy and human rights across Europe and beyond;
    investment across Europe contributing to better living standards and educational, social and cultural capital.
    All of this is nothing compared with its greatest achievements: the EU has for 60 years been the foundation of peace between European neighbours after centuries of bloodshed.

    So, Mr Andersen, which of the above would you forego? If we leave the EU many of these rights will be removed by a Tory government regardless of Cameron’s seeming to want to stay. I hate to say it but, on this one thing alone, I agree with him.

  3. stephen marks

    Read the article before posting your ignorant knee-jerk reaction. It is specifically about the postal service, and proves that the EU does indeed protect the minimal level of services which a Tory government outside the EU would be free to reduce. As Lucy is actually leading the work of the Socialist group in the European Parliament on this issue she may be presumed to know what she is talking about. And your qualifications on this issue are what exactly? As for TTIP it will not happen unless all 28 member states and the European Parliament all agree to it which, if we keep up the pressure, will not happen.

  4. Mike Stallard

    This assumes a number of things.
    Let’s be more positive.
    If we make sure of our EEA membership and negotiate our Brexit after the referendum from within the EFTA organisation, things will remain more or less the same for as long as we want them to.
    When the time comes, we can then apply Article 50.
    The Eurozone is the future for the EU and we want no part of that.
    If we do this, then your article falls to pieces. Postal Services will continue as they are for as long as we let them.

  5. Jamie J

    This really is wishful thinking… The EU has done nothing to prevent the Royal Mail and its workforce from being continually subjected to mismanagement and treated as a political football by successive UK governments. Nothing to stop the systematic destruction of a much-admired and highly profitable great British industry. But it will allow further reductions in service with deliveries down to 5 days a week. And as I’m sure you’re aware, privatisation began well before 2013, facilitated by Labour’s disastrous Postal Services Act of 2000.

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