The European Commission has announced plans to investigate the distribution of tax-free savings accounts in France as part of ongoing investigations into state aid related illegal breaches of competition policy.
The multifaceted investigation centers on rights granted by the French government to La Poste, Credit Mutuel and Caisse d’Epargne to distribute exclusively the ‘livret A’ and ‘livret bleu’ savings accounts.
The commission is pursuing a state aid investigation into the fees paid by the French state to Credit Mutuel for distributing the ‘livret bleu’ savings accounts, to establish whether there has been overcompensation.
La Poste, the Caisse d’Epargne and Credit Mutuel also have special rights to distribute the ‘livret A’ and the ‘livret bleu’ and here the commission has opted to initiate infringement proceedings.
The commission fears that these special rights may infringe the Treaty [of Europe] by raising obstacles to the freedom of establishment and freedom to provide services. The decisions do not affect the way the savings books work as far as private individuals are concerned, the commission said in a statement.
Competition commissioner Neelie Kroes commented: Both sets of proceedings should be seen in the context of the commission’s efforts to increase competition and widen consumer choice in the financial services sector.
French finance minister Thierry Breton said the government would respond ‘clearly’ to the concerns raised by the commission.