Mr. José Manuel Barroso
President of the European Commission
B – 1049 Brussels
Brussels, 8 December 2008
Dear President Barosso,
It has recently come to my attention that the Internal Market infringement procedures concerning gambling services have ground to a complete halt and I have serious concerns that the decision making procedures involved have become entirely politicised. I shall elaborate the reasons for my concerns below. In this light, I urge you, President, to ensure that the Commission acts promptly in its role as Guardian of the Treaty.
In March 2004, the Commission launched its first infringement procedure against Denmark for restrictive legislation on sports betting. Over the following four years, the Commission initiated infringement procedures against nine further member states, among which Sweden, in the area of sports betting and gambling services. In seven cases a Reasoned Opinion has been sent, confirming the Commission’s view that a violation of Community Law exists. In 2008, not a single one of these infringement cases has been sent to the European Court for an objective ruling on the merits and there is no apparent valid justification for the Commission’s inaction on these cases.
Indeed, as I am sure you are aware, the European Ombudsman, Nikiforos Diamandouros, issued a special report in May 2006 which recommended that the Commission should deal with a German sports betting complaint “diligently and without undue delay”[i]. Although this particular complaint is now closed[ii], the principle surely rings true for all pending infringement cases. The Commission has a duty, as the guardian of the Treaty, to deal with all infringement complaints, even if they are “highly politically sensitive or controversial”[iii].
In June this year a fellow MEP expressed concern to you over the consistent failure of the College of Commissioner to refer infringement cases involving member’s states legislation on gambling services to the European Court[iv].
No later than December this year, the Council of the EU discussed at a Competitiveness Council a progress report by the French Presidency on gambling. With little progress made on the issue, your colleague Commissioner McCreevy told at the meeting no common EU rules would be proposed on gambling as no consensus existed among member states[v]. Which means that the only way to get clarity on the issue is to refer the seven cases to the European Court.
In that context, perhaps you as President of the Commission can shed some light on the reasons for the delays and the objections put forward by other Commissioners. What can be the legitimate justification for not even discussing infringement cases within the College of Commissioners?
According to Winfried Wortmann, President of European Lotteries, the Commission has a “new attitude” towards the infringement procedures and Phillipe Vlaeminck tells us that you, President, are looking for a “friendly solution” between member states.[vi] What is to be understood by a “friendly solution”? In a context where legislat
ive reforms, to bring national laws into conformity with EU rules, have long been promised by Member States but are still not forthcoming, I firmly believe that it is high time to put these infringement cases on the agenda for discussion within the College of Commissioners.
The future of the whole European online betting and gambling industry is at stake. The Commission’s inaction and inability to enforce the rights of these service providers under the Treaty could well push this dynamic, innovative, responsible and technology driven industry outside of the EU. The lack of choice and access to an attractive and highly regulated offer would also drive the consumer to sites outside of the EU jurisdiction and associated protections. The online gaming industry is currently worth €4.9 Billion in Gross Gaming Revenue and is expected to grow to €9.8 Billion GGR by 2012 – within the framework of the economic pillar of the Lisbon Strategy can the EU really afford to lose such an industry?
In light of the recommendations of the European Ombudsman and in order to ensure the independence of the Commissioners and the principles of transparency, I call on you, as president of the Commission, to clear the path for a decision at College level and ensure that the gambling services infringement cases involving are dealt with expediently.