Volume: 12 Issue: 5
The European Commission has decided against examining Belgian player agent Daniel Striani’s complaint that UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations breach EU rules on competition, reasoning that a Brussels court can adequately handle the complaint. The Brussels court is set to hear the case on 26 and 27 February 2015, and a ruling is expected in Spring 2015.
Striani’s lawyer, Jean-Louis Dupont of Roca Junyent, confirmed that Striani had received a letter from the Commission’s Directorate General for Competition. ‘First, the Commission has expressed doubts as to the legitimate interest of Mr. Striani, since the impact to him is indirect (the UEFA rule is aimed primarily at clubs, and penalises agents indirectly),’ reads a 21 May Roca Junyent statement. ‘Mr. Striani strongly disagrees with this analysis from the European Commission and shall have until 16 June to make submissions in this regard, which will provide a detailed response.’
Secondly, as Striani’s initial complaint was filed both with the Commission and a Brussels court, the Commission reasons that the Brussels court is best placed to handle his complaint. ‘On 20 June 2013 you lodged an application (citation) before the Brussels Court requesting it to establish that UEFA has infringed the same Treaty provisions as those set out in your complaint, and to award you damages for those infringements,’ reads the Roca Junyent statement, quoting from the DG Competition’s letter to Striani. ‘In your application, you develop arguments virtually identical to those set out in the complaint. The Brussels Court requested, and on 12 February 2014 received, UEFA’s observations on 18 April 2014. An oral hearing is scheduled for 26 and 27 February 2015.’
According to the letter, the Brussels court will examine whether UEFA’s FFP regulations and its ‘break-even’ requirement (Article 57 of UEFA’s Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations):
- restrict competition within the meaning of Article 101(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU);
- benefits from an exemption under Article 101(3) TFEU; and
- Infringes Article 102 TFEU.
‘The Brussels Court can make a reference for a preliminary ruling to the Court of Justice of the European Union pursuant to Article 267 TFEU concerning the compatibility of the FFP, and in particular the break-even requirement, with Articles 101 and 102 TFEU,’ reads the letter to Striani. ‘Mr. Striani therefore notes that, according to the European Commission, the Court of Brussels is well placed to decide the question of the EU legality of the UEFA rule,’ continues the Roca Junyent statement. ‘In particular since – according to the Commission – the national court itself may address the preliminary questions raised by Mr. Striani at the Court of Justice of the European Union and also because the Brussels Tribunal may nullify the UEFA rule, which would lead to its ceasing to exist across the European Union.’
“Bosman’s complaint was initially rejected by the European Commission,” said Stephen Hornsby, a Partner with Goodman Derrick LLP. “He had to go through the national courts, and it took him five years.” Striani’s lawyer, Jean-Louis Dupont, represented Belgian football player Jean-Marc Bosman throughout his case against football’s transfer system in the 1990s.
“I think the way that the Commission has rejected the complaint is significant,” said Hornsby. “The Commission is more passing the buck than saying that it has no merit. So UEFA will know that this case is not over.”
The Commission decision not to investigate will come as welcome relief for UEFA. It recently settled with nine clubs alleged to have breached aspects of its Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations rather than issue sanctions. If these sanctions had been contested, it could have affected the Brussels Court’s judgment in the Striani case. Statements from Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain both expressed reservations about UEFA’s judgment of their compliance with the regulations, suggesting that negotiations had taken place with the clubs in order to get them to accept the settlements.