Brussels, 17 February2011
Digital Agenda: Commission welcomes Court ruling confirming Member States' discretion to determine free to view sporting events
The European Commission welcomes the EU General Court's ruling today confirming that individual Member States have discretion under EU law to decide which sporting events are of major importance for their public and so should be available on free-to-view television. The rulings concerned an appeal by FIFA and UEFA against a Commission decision to approve lists of football matches to be available on free-to-view television submitted by Belgium and the United Kingdom. The Court found that the Commission acted correctly in approving the lists of events of UK and Belgium. Consequently, FIFA’s and UEFA’s actions were dismissed. Both Belgium and the United Kingdom had submitted lists including the whole final tournament of the FIFA Football World Cup (i.e.64 football matches) and the UK's list also included all the UEFA European Football Championship (EURO - i.e. 31 matches). Under the EU’s Audiovisual Media Services (AVMS) Directive (Article 14), Member States can draw up a list of events of major importance (such as the Olympic Games) for their general public and take measures to ensure that these events are accessible on free-to-view television. These lists can be submitted to the European Commission for approval in order to get recognition in other Member States. At present, the lists in 8 Member States approved by the Commission (Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy and United Kingdom) are in force.
The Court rulings on cases T-385/07 and T-68/08 (FIFA/Commission), and in case T-55/08 (UEFA/Commission) found that the Member States' decisions to consider that all of the matches of those competitions are of major importance for society are compatible with the relevant provisions of EU law (the AVMS Directive). The Court found that ‘prime’ and ‘gala’ matches, and non-prime matches, could be considered of major importance for UK and Belgian societies and can therefore be included in a national list specifying the events to which the public should be able to have access on free television.
In particular, the Court ruled that in the absence of harmonisation in the E U of specific events which Member States may consider to be of major importance for society, a number of different approaches concerning the inclusion of the World Cup and EURO matches in a national list may be compatible with the AVMS Directive.
FIFA and UEFA sought the annulment before the Court of First Instance of the decision of the Commission approving the list of events submitted by Belgium and the UK. FIFA and UEFA argued that the whole final tournament cannot be considered as an event of major importance. Conversely, the Commission argued that the final tournament of the FIFA World Cup is quoted in the AVMS Directive itself as an example of an event of major importance, that there is a wide margin of discretion for each Member State to decide which event is of major importance for its own society and that, in its review of the Belgian and UK list, the Commission did not find them manifestly erroneous.