Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Weakness of European institutions: another facet

Recently, the huge losses by the US Postal System have prompted alarmist predictions that the service will disappear altogether. While significant cutbacks are in store, I trust that these dire forecasts will not come to pass.

The situation may be worse abroad. The weakness of European institutions has become evident in the financial sector. What is not much discussed is the lack of a uniform continental postal system. For a long time, a national post office has been a symbol of sovereignty, long preceding, say, the national airlines.

For decades now, the Italian post office has been a laughing stock, with reports that undelivered mail was actually burned. Some friends living in Rome resorted to sending letters out from the Vatican, where the postal service was reliable.

Since I read Italian with ease, I have long been a consumer of Italian books--too much so for my own good. In recent years I have used an Italian bookseller ( that sent the orders only by FedEx or some other private delivery service, at ruinous rates. Then, about three months ago, Amazon opened an Italian branch, proposing to send the books through the mail at cheap prices.

How could they do it? First, the books are concentrated at the warehouse in Montelimar in France. Thence the items required are sent by truck to Germany, where they are dispatched cheaply and safely by Deutsche Post, which has a superb record. I have received six packages now by this circuitous but secure route.

What do we learn from this example? First, Europe has no uniform postal service, which it badly needs, Second, the existing postal services are arranged in a hierarchy, with Germany at the top, France in the middle, and Italy at the bottom.



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