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EU's body mulls possible action against France, Sweden and Greece
Wednesday could be crunch day for EU nations France, Sweden and Greece, reports the Reuters news service, revealing that the European Commission will decide whether to take legal action against the three nations for restricting competition in their gambling markets.
"There will be some decisions made probably tomorrow by the college (of commissioners) on a number of member states," Oliver Drewes, a spokesman for the European Union's executive arm, told a regular press briefing. "This concerns France, Greece and Sweden for the moment. Those are the decisions on the calendar for tomorrow," he said.
Sports betting and gambling is a state-owned monopoly in many EU states, generating large amounts of revenue for government coffers. EU sources confirmed on earlier this week that the Commission would issue a final warning to France and Sweden and an initial warning to Greece for restricting competition in their gambling markets.
If no changes are made, the European Court of Justice has powers to force states to alter their laws.
EU Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy told Reuters that it is unacceptable that some [state] gambling operators have advertised for new customers while at the same time protesting that gambling must not be encouraged as an excuse to bar competitors.
However, for the Commission to say to governments "see you in court" rather than try to negotiate is also unsatisfactory, he added, saying that the Commission would prefer dialogue and negotiation with EU member states in order to reach what he called "a proportionate compromise." He revealed, however, that certain states had not entered into a such a dialogue at all.
The Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt seemed to hint at a more compliant approach for his country last week, when he said that the [Swedish] domestic sector would be reformed but it could take time. A Swedish enquiry into the issue, which could take up to two years to conclude, had been appointed and the Swedes were interested in hearing EU suggestions. "So the last word has not been said," Reinfeldt remarked.
Reuters recapped on the situation in Greece, where the governmentdominated monopoly OPAP runs gambling in the country, with competition restricted, especially from other EU nations. Major international gambling firms with their roots in EU countries had expressed a desire for a regulated EU sports betting market that treated private and state-owned or controlled operators equally.
The French Institute of Horse Racing rejected the anticipated move by Brussels, saying in a statement: "It regrets that the particularities of the horse racing sector and its financing, founded on the principles of general interest, were not taken into account by the Commission and that a real negotiation was not organised on this subject."
The Commission has opened legal actions against a number of EU states, citing a string of European Court of Justice rulings as a basis to crack down on unfair restrictions on competitors.
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