ONLINE GAMBLING: Commission ACTS AGAINST GAMBLING LEGISLATION of several MEMBER STATES
Brussels, 20 November 2013
20 November 2013. Today the European Commission launched formal infringement proceedings against the online gambling legislation of 6 Member States and issued 2 ‘reasoned opinions’ against Sweden for failing to comply with EU law. This move follows repeated calls from the European Parliament for the Commission to act as the Guardian of the Treaties and significant legal clarifications by the Court of Justice on how the Treaty applies to national gambling legislation. Similar decisions against other Member States are expected to follow.
The Commission sent letters of formal notice (1) to Belgium, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Poland and Romania with regard to their online gambling legislation (see link for Commission press release). Sweden, which already was subject to an infringement proceeding, was today sent 2 reasoned opinions, formal requests to bring its legislation in conformity with EU law rules and the last step before potential litigation at the Court of Justice. Sweden has a 2 month deadline to reply to the Commission.
These are the first series of decisions from the European Commission regarding outstanding complaints and pending infringement cases against over 20 Member States (see link). Whilst the Commission has closed some complaints, cases against inter alia France, Germany, Greece, Hungary and the Netherlands remain under investigation and are awaiting formal decision. The decision to restart gambling infringement proceedings is a significant step as its last comparable action dates back to February 2008.
The Commission´s action follows repeated calls from the European Parliament - most recently in its June 2013 report ‘Online Gambling in the Internal Market’ – for the Commission to “continue to monitor and enforce compliance of national laws and practices with EU law,…,and to launch infringements procedures against those Member States that appear to breach EU law” (see link).
It is based on recent clarifications by the CJEU on how the Treaty applies to the (online) gambling sector (see link). National rules which prohibit gambling services authorised in other Member States were found to restrict the freedom of residents to receive services offered in other Member States. Furthermore, gambling licensing regimes must be transparent, non-discriminating and non-arbitrary. Most importantly, the CJEU has clarified that national regulation must be overall consistent in its objectives and measures and that it is for the Member State to prove that imposed restrictive measures are suitable and necessary.
Maarten Haijer, Secretary General of EGBA, commented; “Today´s decision by the Commission is highly significant as it will bring further legal clarity to the online gambling market in the EU. We commend Commissioner Barnier and his services for their perseverance and commitment to making sure gambling regulation functions properly. EGBA urges Member States to use this opportunity to put in place effective, commercially viable gambling legislation which takes into account the CJEU requirements and to avoid the need for litigation at the Court of Justice.”
Haijer adds; “It is perfectly well possible to achieve public interest objectives in a consistent and systematic manner without being unnecessarily restrictive and in compliance with EU law. EGBA is fully committed to achieving public policy objectives such as a high level of consumer protection. In fact, all EGBA members are compulsorily audited on their compliance with the