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Needs Must: Second generation Commission-UEFA Arrangement reaffirms the EU’s leading role

So, it finally happened, the European Commission and UEFA formally adopted a new Arrangement for Cooperation (AfC) until December 2025. This latest instalment in the political framework for cooperation between UEFA and different services of the Commission marks a second generation of Arrangements following that of 2014, which was extended to 2018 and again until the end of 2021 to cover EURO 2020 – held in 2021 – because of the COVID-19 enforced disruption.

The EUROs came and went – to Rome instead of ‘home’. Overlapping with the tournament allowed the extended Arrangement to provide a platform for UEFA to amplify the visibility to the Commission’s initiatives like the European Green Deal and vaccination campaigns during the EUROs. This, as was the “Football for Unity” project implemented during tournament with the aim of educating European public about the social inclusion of third nationals, was a major contribution of the extended Arrangement. Re-calling part one of this post which takes stock of the relative success and shortcomings of the AfC from 2014-2020, the awareness-raising role of UEFA situated within the broader objectives of the Arrangements strikes as a real added value for the European Union and football in the EU.

Having helped negotiate a delayed EUROs and with the pandemic in remission, the common reason holding the extended Arrangement together appeared to have been naturally fizzling out. Therefore, when in April 2021 several top clubs challenged the monopoly of the European football’s governing body, by announcing their intention to create a European Super League (SL), this heaped renewed pressure on the EU-UEFA partnership, which in turn provoked a renewed sense of purpose.

No longer does the basis for cooperation consist of rehashed objectives underlying previous Arrangements. Instead, the rhetoric of the new Arrangement is pretty clear – horses for courses – as the focus is exclusively stressed on the European Sport Model (ESM) and the European values inherent within that model. In fact, this commitment to the ESM is mentioned no less than 6 times, compared to the 2014 and 2018 Arrangements where it is omitted, or at least not mentioned directly.

The objectives of the Arrangement come as no surprise when considering that opposition to the SL - on the one hand - and the increased importance and concern for the ESM – on the other – had been brewing since it was announced. At the European institutional level, the European Parliament’s landmark Resolution of EU Sport Policy called for protection and strengthening of the ESM, particularly in the face of threats of closed and breakaway competitions. Not to be outdone, the EU Council of Ministers approved a resolution on the key features of a ESM, consisting among others of the pyramid structure with an open promotion and relegation system. Furthermore, the Commission’s DG EAC commissioned a Study on the ESM. Therefore, the Arrangement arrives at a crucial moment given recent threats to have confronted the organised sports sector in Europe.

Many learnings emerge from this AfC. Firstly, before the emergence of the SL, there was no ESM as according to the White Paper of 2007, the Commission decreed it unrealistic to define a unified model of sport in Europe. However, by vowing to promote European values and objectives, the Arrangement not only reiterates both parties’ opposition to the SL, but also their unified recognition of a ESM. Even though the Commission at the SL hearing conceded existence of different ways to run sport and questioned the proportionality of UEFA threats to ban players, its actions speak louder as it takes its collaboration with UEFA to the next level by signing the Arrangement which is in full force out to support the ESM.

Moreover, Sport Governing Bodies, as seen in Walrave and Koch and Meca Medina, have long insisted on the autonomy and independence of sport from interference and viewed the Commission with suspicion in the control and regulation of sport. Therefore, the Arrangement, spurred on by a creeping existential crisis presented by the SL, signifies a sea change in that SGBs such as UEFA seek more, not less intervention by the EU institutions and governments. Although the Arrangement is not in any way binding under Union law, it presents a major shift, as previously there had been a lack of appetite by the EU institutions to re-regulate in the field, having already accepted private regulatory actors in the form of SGBs like UEFA.

In so doing, the second generation of AfC has the Commissions ‘guardian of the treaties’ imprint all over it. The is because in its watchdog role, which allows the Commission to oversee the application of EU law (Art. 17, TEU) the task assigned to the EU by the Treaty in the area of sport is to 'contribute to the promotion of European sporting issues' and to 'develop the European dimension in sport' (Art. 165, TFEU).

Notoriously, the EU has never been shy to transmogrify itself in light of emerging pressures, challenges and complexities. Therefore, to say that SL machinations have provided the spark that has given the second generation AfC a new lease of life, while at the same time allowing the Commission to set the record straight on its role as competition regulator and guardian of the treaties would be an understatement.

Webster Chakawata

M.A European Interdisciplinary Studies, College of Europe, Warsaw, Poland

Blog posts represent the views of the author and not that of Sport&EU or its members

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