The license for the takeover of Sandd by PostNL has been canceled. According to the court in Rotterdam, the Ministry of Economic Affairs, which has granted the license, has not sufficiently addressed the risks to competition for which the Authority for Consumers and Markets had previously warned.
That does not automatically mean that the takeover will be reversed. Sandd and PostNL were merged on 1 February. According to PostNL it is not possible to reverse this.
The question that has been put to court is whether the permit has been prepared carefully enough, and according to the judge that is not the case. “The consequences are not discussed by the judge,” said a spokesman for the court.
The Ministry of Economic Affairs says it is carefully studying the ruling and its consequences. The ministry had previously announced that it would appeal if the license were to be canceled. Now that the statement has been made, the ministry says it will consider it.
Inadequate balancing of interests
Last September, ACM issued a negative advice on the takeover. The merger would create a practical monopoly, the regulator said at the time. A few weeks later, State Secretary Keijzer gave permission for the merger. She argued that mail delivery should remain affordable in a “shrinking market”. Those were “compelling reasons of public interest,” said Keijzer.
The court now judges that this reasoning was not sufficient. “The balance of interests made is flawed because the defendant did not address the risks to competition identified by ACM in neighboring markets and thus did not fully identify the likely impediment to competition,” the statement said.
One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit was Kiesjefolders, a company whose advertising brochures were delivered by Sandd. “In principle I am in favor of the takeover, for strong mail delivery,” says Aldo Breed of Kiesjefolders. But Breed criticizes the lack of conditions the state has set for the takeover. “If ACM had given approval, there would have been a whole range of conditions. The secretary of state sent only one and a half A4 pages into the world.” Breed says he was not heard beforehand by the Ministry of Economic Affairs. “That’s why we started a procedure.”
According to PostNL, which is not officially a party in the matter, the ball is now with the cabinet. “We are confident that the Cabinet will act carefully. If you look at the reasons why the decision was made, it has not changed. In fact, the mail volume has shrunk even further. That makes it extra important for the future of the postal service that there is one network nationwide. We have to wait and see what step the state will take now. “