The European Commission has found that public financing granted by France to the French bank La Banque Postale from 2009 to 2014 in order to improve banking accessibility are in line with EU state aid rules. In particular the compensation granted to La Banque Postale does not exceed the net cost for discharging the public service obligations.
Commission Vice President in charge of competition policy Joaquín Almunia said: "The Livret A distributed by La Banque Postale improves banking accessibility for the economically disadvantaged part of the population. without stigmatising them, and without unduly distorting competition. The compensation that the French State grants to La Banque Postale to fulfil this mission is in line with our rules since it is limited to the cost for discharging the public service obligations."
The French State has entrusted La Banque Postale with a number of obligations which help improve banking accessibility, with a focus on the disadvantaged part of the population. For instance, La Banque Postale is obliged to open for free a Livret A for every client asking for it and to perform for free in all its branches a number of other banking services, such as free cash deposits and withdrawals, including for very low amounts. A significant number of economically disadvantaged people rely on the Livret A of La Banque Postale for access to basic banking payment services.
For discharging these public service obligations, la Banque postale receives compensation from the French State. Based on the 2009-2014 figures presented by France, the Commission concluded that those compensations do not exceed what is necessary to cover the net cost of discharging the public service obligations. Moreover, if overcompensation should occur, a procedure has been put in place obliging La Banque Postale to repay any excess compensation.
The Commission found that the bank's Livret A was unlikely to crowd out current accounts offered by the market, because it offers only limited payment possibilities. Customers are therefore unlikely to close a current account to manage their payments and transactions from a Livret A of La Banque Postale. The Commission therefore concluded that any distortions of competition triggered by the measure would be limited.
The Commission assessed the measure under the set of rules governing the provision of services of general economic interest (SGEI). Since the compensation for la Banque Postale has been granted before the adoption of the Commission's new SGEI package (see IP/11/1571), the transitional provisions of the new package apply in this case. For any possible compensation after 2014, the rules of the new package will apply in full.
On 10 May 2007, the Commission opened proceedings on the exclusive right of Crédit Mutuel, Caisses d'Epargne and La Banque Postale to distribute the savings books "Livret A" and "Livret Bleu" (see IP/07/641). On 1 January 2009, France decided to liberalise the distribution of the Livret A; as of that date, all banks are allowed to distribute it. The Commission therefore closed its investigation (see IP/09/1482).
From the same date, the French State also entrusted La Banque Postale with a SGEI mission to improve the banking accessibility in France via additional obligations on its Livret A compared to the Livret A distributed by other banks, for which La Banque Postale receives an additional compensation from the state. Today's decision finds that the compensation received for these special tasks, which other distributors do not have to satisfy, is in line with EU state aid rules.
The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.29367 in the State Aid Register on the DG Competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. New publications of state aid decisions on the internet and in the Official Journal are listed in the State Aid Weekly e-News
24 January 2013
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