A postman of the national postal company Bpost is seen delivering a parcel on May 13, 2023 in Brussels, Belgium. (Photo by Omar Havana/Getty Images)


Shares in Belgian distributor Bpost tank on report of loss of vital contract


Belgian unions fear 4,500 jobs at Belgian Post Group (Bpost) could be at risk if the Government awards the national distribution contract for newspapers and magazines to its competitors.

The Federal Public Service for Economy has recommended assigning the distribution of print news publications, starting next year, to the independent firm PPP and the Proximy company.

Bpost’s stock lost more than 12 per cent on the morning of November 27 on the Brussels stock exchange after the recommendation was made public.

The Government tender to distribute papers and magazines is vital for Bpost but the group attracted controversy after having been connected with accusations of fraud.

The State press concession has always been contentious although it was recently reduced from €175 million to €125 million per year.

The Government subsidises the distribution costs of media titles, triggering accusations that this is an indirect subsidy designed to encourage a “friendly press”.

It has so far shied away from making a final decision, apparently buying time by calling for a technical examination of any such change.

The new newspaper concession scheme has to be implemented no later than July 1, 2024.

“The current uncertainty is burdensome for employees involved and their families, especially during this year-end period,” recently installed Bpost CEO Chris Peeters said.

The tender will officially close on December 31 and the chosen operators for distribution will have six months to get organised.

“We have many questions and, for now, no answers are provided,” said Stéphane Daussaint, a CSC union representative.

Unions insist only Bpost should have the Government tender, based on its experience, and say they are concerned about a loss of quality of service and jobs should the contract be removed.

Bpost has been the centre of controversy for more than a year, with leaders having had to step down amid allegations of fraud, corruption and conflicts of interests.

In 2022, an audit seemed to suggest that Bpost, the publishers DPG Media, Mediahuis and PPP may have entered into potentially illegal market agreements to ensure Bpost won the distribution contract at the time.

Bpost was later revealed to have artificially raised invoices for other public contracts. Dirk Tirez, the company’s former CEO, resigned.

In the summer of this year, the Belgian Government was accused of sending hundreds of millions of Euros in illegal subsidies to Bpost.

Investigative journalists claimed the Government “intentionally misled” the European Commission to get the transfers approved.

Political parties on the Right said they believe giving the tender to Bpost’s competition will lead to fairer operations and that resulting freer market principles should benefit all.

Some say the Bpost subsidies have led to higher prices. According to centre-right N-VA parliamentarian Michael Freilich, the price of newspaper and magazine distribution in Belgium is five times higher than in the Netherlands.

The right-wing Vlaams Belang party said taxpayers’ money should not flow into publishers’ pockets. Its members have also lamented what they called a “total lack of control”.

On the Left, politicians said they fear a poorer service and lower wages should the recommendation be put into practice, with the Socialist party traditionally supporting the case for Bpost. They have been backed by the Green Party.

The loudest opposition comes from Lapresse.be, the union of French-language publishers, which called the possible move to take distribution away from Bpost “the worst thing that could happen”.