The Commission has asked France to amend its legislation within nine months in order to eliminate the obstacles to the internal market rules represented by the special rights to distribute savings books ("livret A" and "livret bleu") granted to Banque Postale, Caisse d’Epargne and Crédit Mutuel.
This request, based on Article 86(3) of the Treaty, follows its examination of the replies by France and all the interested parties to the letter of formal notice sent by the Commission in June 2006. The Commission considers that the special distribution rights in question constitute a restriction which is incompatible with Community law and are not essential to ensure the satisfactory provision of the two services of general economic interest cited by the French authorities, namely the financing of social housing and the accessibility of basic banking services. The requested change to the method of distributing the savings books does not jeopardise the tasks of general interest with which they are associated and does not entail any deterioration in the way in which these savings books operate for individuals.
The "livret A" and the "livret bleu" are savings products to which the State has granted tax-exemption. They are distributed exclusively by three banking networks, which, in return for an intermediary’s fee, transfer the sums collected to the "Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations", which uses them to finance social housing. Some 50 million French citizens have such savings books, which represent a total value of €128 billion.
The reserved distribution of these products constitutes a restriction on freedom of establishment and freedom to provide services (Articles 43 and 49 of the Treaty) and creates an obstacle for French and foreign competitors wishing to enter and develop within the liquid banking savings market in France.
In the retail banking sector, the survival of special rights to distribute tax-exempt savings products granted to banking establishments whose range of activities has moreover been continually expanding is an anomaly which has a damaging effect on the development of fair conditions of competition. [10 May 2007]