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District Court upholds ACM’s decision not to grant a license for PostNL’s acquisition of Sandd

On September 29, 2023, the District Court of Rotterdam handed down its ruling on the decision of the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) not to issue a license for the acquisition of postal operator Sandd by rival operator PostNL. The court rules that PostNL’s objection against this decision is unfounded. As a result, the decision has been upheld.

What is this case about?

On September 5, 2019, ACM decided not to grant PostNL a license for its then planned acquisition of Sandd. The acquisition would create a monopolist on the postal delivery market. ACM expected that the acquisition would lead to price increases for consumers, businesses, and government agencies that send mail, without generating sufficient benefits in terms of efficiency.

PostNL subsequently filed an appeal against ACM’s decision, and, at the same time, filed a request with the then State Secretary for Economic Affairs and Climate Policy (EZK) to grant a license anyway. The State Secretary cited reasons of general interest that she believed outweighed the restriction of competition. That is why, on September 27, 2019, she granted a license anyway. PostNL completed the acquisition of Sandd shortly thereafter.

On June 11, 2020, the District Court ruled that the State Secretary of EZK had failed to grant that license on lawful grounds. As a result, the District Court reversed the decision to grant a license. On June 2, 2022, the Dutch Trade and Industry Appeals Tribunal (CBb), the highest administrative court in the Netherlands, definitively reversed that decision to grant a license. As a consequence, ACM’s decision not to grant a license was revived, and PostNL’s appeal against it was resumed.

The District Court of Rotterdam has now ruled that PostNL’s appeal against ACM’s decision was unfounded.

The ruling confirms that it was the right decision in 2019 not to grant a license for the acquisition of Sandd by PostNL. ACM will now carefully study the ruling, and will discuss the implications thereof with all parties involved.

ACM’s oversight focuses on PostNL’s practices as a monopolist and as the provider of the Universal Service Obligation (USO, in Dutch: Universele Postdienst or UPD), which is a basic set of postal services that must be accessible and affordable for everyone. The quality of the USO has come under pressure, which is also reflected in the many reports that have been received from worried consumers and businesses. That is why ACM keeps a close watch on the quality of postal delivery in the Netherlands.

Parties still have the opportunity to file an appeal against this ruling with the CBb.

The ruling of the District Court of Rotterdam (in Dutch)

See also