By Jürgen Creutzmann - 9th November 2012
I warmly welcome the commission’s commitment to finally take action against member states whose national gambling legislation infringes EU single market law
Jürgen Creutzmann says he is looking forward to the upcoming debates on the merits of the EU’s online gambling action plan.
Online gambling is a fast-growing market which transcends national borders, beyond the control of individual states. In its recently published action plan on online gambling, the European commission rightly recognised that a European framework is needed in order to protect consumers, prevent crime and safeguard the integrity of sports. In doing so, the commission follows a broad call for policy action at EU level, including by the European parliament.
As expected, the commission adopted a rather careful approach, limiting the action plan to several non-legislative actions, including formal, but non-binding recommendations on consumer protection, advertising and the prevention of match fixing. Certainly, this is a very good and important first step. But I am convinced that ‘soft law’ will not be enough to ensure greater coherence between member states’ regulatory models. In the long run, we will need a common legislative framework if we want to protect consumers and fight fraud effectively across national borders. At least, the commission has announced to “assess... if additional measures, where necessary legislative ones, need to be taken at EU level” after two years. I am hopeful that, in its review, the commission will come to the conclusion that we need to go one step further.
Moreover, I warmly welcome the commission’s commitment to finally take action against member states whose national gambling legislation infringes EU single market law, based on the jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). After four years of stagnation, the commission is now expected to finally re-launch infringement proceedings against nine member states and to investigate the gambling laws of 20 member states subject to recent complaints. As a first step, the member states concerned will be asked to provide updated information on their national legislation.
In the staff working paper accompanying the action plan, the commission provides a summary of ECJ jurisprudence in compliance with single market law, which is likely to serve as a common basis for its future enforcement actions against member states. According to the summary, member states are in principle free to set the objectives of their policy with regard to online gambling. However, member states may only restrict the fundamental freedoms in the single market where justified on grounds related to the general interest and of a non-economic nature, such as consumer protection and the prevention of fraud. Such restrictive measures must be suitable and proportionate to reach the desired objectives in a consistent and systematic manner and may not discriminate against foreign operators. In the case of licensing systems, the principles of transparency, equal treatment and legal certainty must be fulfilled.
In addition, the jurisprudence includes a number of specific requirements in relation to national monopolies. Monopolists must be subject to strict state control and ensure a particularly high level of consumer protection. Furthermore, the activities of the monopolists must be coherent with the general interest objectives. In this regard, expansionist commercial policies must be scrutinised in particular. I trust that the commission will stick to its word and systematically enforce these principles in member states’ national gambling law.
Online gambling remains a very hot topic in parliament. As rapporteur for parliament’s last report on online gambling, I am looking forward to the upcoming debates on the action plan and to following its implementation in the next two years.
Jürgen Creutzmann is a member of parliament's industry, research and energy committee