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Universal Service and Consumer Protection:

A Paradigm Shift in EU Law

Kati Cseres


Public services play a vital role in people’s life across the EU and affordable and reliable public services are essential to strengthen the internal market. The creation of a single European market for public services has been pursued progressively by opening up national markets to competition. The legal framework of the liberalisation was implemented through Directives that were grounded on two different doctrines of EU law: 1) the internal market approach focusing on market access and competition and 2) the universal service approach guaranteeing access to services for everyone irrespective of their economic, social or geographic situation. Specific provisions aimed at the protection of the users and customers of public services were implemented only in the second and third generation of Directives. This shows that EU law concerning consumers of public services is rooted on two groups of legal provisions: the rules regulating universal service provision and specific consumer law provisions. Therefore, the relation between the two defines the legal position of consumers. This raises the question how well universal service provisions and consumer provisions are connected and whether they form a coherent part of EU law that can protect and support consumers in the increasingly digitalised world of public services. The main research question the article aims to answer is: how does EU law conceptualise the relationship between universal service provisions and consumer related provisions? The article analyses how universal service and consumer rules developed in the course of liberalisation and how a new balance between these rules and a redefinition of their relationship is established by analysing EU law in telecommunications and postal services.

Dr Kati Cseres, Associate Professor of Law, Amsterdam Centre for European Law and Governance, Amsterdam Center of Law & Economics, University of Amsterdam. For corrspondence: <>.


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