Thanks to the European Union, things like these finally become possible:
Deutsche Post is about to lose its monopoly on the postal service. And after that, customers will be able to choose from new green, red and blue postboxes on the street as well as old yellow.
As part of a European Union move to introduce greater competition in letter delivery services, Germany on Jan. 1, 2008 will abolish Deutsche Post’s exclusive right to deliver letters under 50 grams — the last monopoly left for what used to be the only game in town.
This is a far cry from the times when Deutsche Post wasn’t just delivering the mail, but also had a stranglehold on German telecommunications, and the whole affair was owned by the government and protected by the employees tremendously powerful trade unions. These kinds of entrenched interests could only be overcome on the European level, which is one of the reasons why I maintain that the EU offers net benefits that outstrip the costs as well as the (not inconsiderable) annoyance factor. This also isn’t the first instance something like this is happening, the EU previously made the member states privatize and liberalize their energy and telecommunications sectors, as well as take the first steps towards the privatization of postal services, which is why the delivery of letters below 50 grams (not quite two ounces) is the last monopoly left until now (although some countries are dragging their feet to preserve it for an additional year or so).
All of these steps had been absolutely crucial for economic growth in Europe, without them the EU economy would have been even more stagnant than it was over the last 15 years or so. Just imagine what, for instance, online services would look like if telecommunications still were run and owned by the government; we would have to apply for a dial-up modem and could count ourselves lucky to get one in less than three months – no DSL or cable modems of course, the post office would want to be paid by the minute (just as they used to when the whole affair was still run publicly), and that’s easier to do with dial-up via a telephone line than with more modern alternatives. If you extrapolate this kind of arrogance and shortsighted greed to services in general it becomes easy to see how the traditional interest groups around here could have prevented Europe from evolving beyond the traditional industrial society. It shouldn’t be underestimated just how powerful our various interest groups are, some of which have been around for centuries in one form or another. As I wrote above, you have to move beyond the national level to defeat them them, and the European Union currently is the best venue to do so successfully. Should the various interest groups learn to cooperate to thwart such efforts we’d have a serious problem, but at least for the foreseeable future it looks as if they are too shortsighted and selfish to make common cause. By the time they have learned better, globalization will hopefully have eroded their respective power bases to an extent that it won’t matter anymore.