FRANCE - The European Commission will start an "in-depth investigation" into whether planned changes to the French pension scheme for public sector postal workers employed by La Poste will give the company an advantage over its competitors.

Under the reform planned for 2007 La Poste will have to start paying employer's contributions to the national pension scheme similar to private companies.

Whereas this was "reform aimed at helping former monopolists adjust to a liberalised market", was welcomed by the Commission, a preliminary examination has left it uncertain as to whether the reform was compliant with the EC Treaty's state aid rules.

"The Commission will examine in particular whether the reduction in La Poste's costs brought about by the reform actually ensures fair competitive conditions," a statement said.

The amount of the contribution paid by La Poste will be calculated "in such a way as to ensure parity between La Poste's compulsory wages-based social and tax charges and those borne by ordinary companies for the risks that are common to both private sector and public sector workers".

French authorities said that "the reform does not involve any state aid since it merely compensates for the structural disadvantage imposed on La Poste by the existing legislation and ensures fair competition with other operators in a market undergoing liberalisation".

Third parties, such as La Poste's competitors, can submit their comments on proposed measures.