On 24 October 2017, the European Commission approved a EUR 1.83 billion public service compensation granted by the French State to La Banque Postale. The compensation is meant to cover the additional costs la Banque Postale incurs as a result from its public service obligation to provide a number of free banking services, and to maintain a territorial presence in areas where other banks have little presence. In view of the rapid developments in methods of distribution in the banking sector, the Commission has decided to limit the validity of the approval to the period 2015–2020. The Commission also warned there is no guarantee that it would accept a further extension of the measure.
La Banque Postale was created in 2005 by La Poste and began its activities on 1 January 2006. All banking and financial services operated by La Poste where transferred to its subsidiary, as well as the assets, rights and obligations attached to these services . The European Commission formally approved the transfer on 21 December 2005. The transfer included the Livret A, which is a tax-free savings account for which La Poste has enjoyed a special distribution right since 1881. The Livret A is used by a significant number of economically disadvantaged people. In 2007, the Commission opened proceedings on the exclusive right of Crédit Mutuel, Caisses d'Epargne and La Banque Postale to market the savings accounts "Livret A" and "Livret Bleu". In this context, from 1 January 2009 France decided to liberalize the distribution of the Livret A, which all banks are now allowed to distribute. Following that decision, the Commission therefore closed its investigation in October 2009. In the same period, the French State entrusted La Banque Postale with specific public service obligations to improve banking accessibility for disadvantaged people. The scheme requires La Banque Postale:
- to open a Livret A free of charge for all clients who request it;
- to offer at all its branches a number of other free banking services, such as free cash deposits and withdrawals, including withdrawals of very small amounts, and
- to maintain a territorial presence in areas where other banks have little presence, for example in fragile peri-urban areas, in order to guarantee access to the Livret A.
For the additional costs arising from these public service obligations, the French State accords a compensation estimated at EUR 1.83 billion. In March 2015, the French State notified the measure to the European Commission. It was presented as an extension of the aid that the Commission had already approved for the period 2009–2014 under the regime of supporting services of general economic interest (“SGEI ”). The European Commission assessed this aid for SGEI in the light of its European Union framework for State aid for public service compensation adopted in 2011, establishing in particular:
- that La Banque Postale has been entrusted with “real” SGEI;
- that the parameters for calculating the annual financial compensation had been set beforehand in the mandate;
- that a control mechanism to avoid overcompensation is in place to guarantee that it does not exceed the net cost of discharging the public service obligations, and
- that, in case of overcompensation, La Banque Postale has to repay any excess compensation.
Finally, the Commission considered that any distortions of competition triggered by the measure would be limited. The Commission indicated that, in view of the rapid developments in methods of distribution in the banking sector, its decision is only valid for the period 2015–2020 and that there is no guarantee that it would accept a further extension of the measure