LEGAL challenges to football’s financial fair play rules have been dealt a “possibly fatal wound” after the European Commission yesterday signed an unprecedented cooperation agreement with governing body Uefa.
The controversial regulations saw Premier League champions Manchester City fined £49m this year and have prompted outcry from some clubs, as well as two separate court cases disputing their legality.
But the forging of closer links between the European Commission and Uefa appears to be the clearest indication yet that Brussels officials intend to uphold FFP in the face of opposition.
Uefa president Michel Platini, who met Commission president Juan Manuel Barroso yesterday in the Belgian capital, said the deal represented a vital endorsement of FFP.
“Uefa is pleased to have the commitment of the European Commission to cooperate in the promotion of grassroots football and to continue to support the implementation of the financial fair play process, which will ensure football can grow and prosper in years to come,” Platini said.
“We have come a long way in our relationship with the European Commission and this arrangement for cooperation is proof that our bond is stronger than ever.”
The European Commission’s eight-page decision document states its support for “measures to encourage greater rationality and discipline in club finances with a focus on the long-term as opposed to the short-term, such as the financial fair play initiative”. It adds, however, that the rules remain “subject to compliance with competition law”.
The Court of First Instance in Brussels is currently considering two legal challenges to FFP, both brought by Jean-Louis Dupont, one of the lawyers involved in obtaining the landmark Bosman case, on behalf of an agent, Daniel Striani, and supporters’ groups.
“This is not at present a death-blow to the Striani challenge against FFP but it is a very serious and possibly fatal wound,” John Mehrzad, barrister and head of the Sports Law Group at Littleton Chambers, told City A.M. “It will certainly undermine Striani’s prospects of success in his challenge.
“Belgian national courts and ultimately the European Court of Justice will take into account that the European Commission now views FFP as necessary and proportionate given its specific endorsement of FFP within its unheralded cooperation agreement with Uefa. That will go a long way in terms of supporting the argument that FFP is indeed proportionate to ensure financial stability in football.”
Dupont told City A.M. that the specific reference in the document to complying with competition law was “evidence that the Commission has not given unconditional approval to FFP, but only subject to compliance with EU competition law.” He added: “This is as a result of the Striani and fans’ complaint.”