In February of this year, PostNL announced its intention to acquire rival operator Sandd. In view of the rapidly declining postal volumes, the two operators consider the combination of their nationwide postal networks necessary to ensure continuity and affordability of postal services. On September 5th 2019, the Dutch Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) rejected the request for merger clearance – after in-depth phase 2 investigation - stating that the creation of a network monopoly in the field of postal services will lead to significant price increases and is not justified by economic efficiencies nor necessary for the provision of the universal postal service.
The day following this refusal, PostNL applied for the approval of the Dutch (Deputy) Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate on the basis of Article 47 of the Dutch Competition Act. This provides competence to the Minister to grant a license, de facto over-ruling refusal by the ACM, if there are reasons of general interest outweighing the expected restrictions of competition. On 27 September 2019 the Deputy Minister decided to grant the license for overriding public interests including the continuity and affordability of high quality postal services in the longer term, better protection of postal employees and the financial interests of the Dutch state. This approval was subject to conditions on PostNL ensuring that the postal tariffs are cost-based (capping the return on mail services at 9%), that the costs for integration of Sandd will not be attributed to the basic postal service and obliging PostNL to provide access to its national network for regional postal transport companies.
This is the first time in the Netherlands that a merger has been approved by the Minister overruling the refusal of a merger license by the ACM. Please find the decision (in Dutch only) here.