By Simon Hart in Brussels
Understanding how the European Union operates is "vital" to the future of European football. This was the message from UEFA vice-president Per Ravn Omdal, speaking on the opening day of the 2nd UEFA Seminar on European Union Affairs in Brussels.
Omdal, who is chairman of UEFA's working group on EU matters, told delegates from 35 UEFA member associations: "Everyone in this room has a direct interest in the EU and its activities and I think it's important that we try and learn and understand how it is and how it operates."
The two-day seminar at the headquarters of the Royal Belgian Football Association opened on Thursday with welcome speeches by Jan Peeters, the host association's president, and Omdal. The latter explained that UEFA had "established a platform with the EU for co-operation" in recent years, citing agreements reached with the Brussels authorities on the transfer system and the central marketing of media rights.
A key issue for UEFA in Brussels is the article on sport in the new EU Treaty, which was signed in June and is due to become operational in 2006. Jonathan Hill, who heads UEFA's EU representative office, gave a presentation titled 'Sport in the new EU Treaty' which highlighted the question of sport's 'specificity'.
Delegates heard that UEFA was keen to ensure that the football was not treated like any other industry and discussed the wording of Article 282, which includes the following reference to the "specific nature" of sport: "The Union shall contribute to the promotion of European sporting issues, while taking account of its specific nature, its structures based on voluntary activity and educational function."
The fight against doping, Hill added, was a major concern for the EU, as evidenced by the reference in Article 282 to "protecting the physical and moral integrity of sportsmen and sportswomen". The Treaty requires the approval of the EU's 25 member states, more than ten of which are expected to hold referendums on it.
Thursday's principal guest speakers were Pedro Velázquez, deputy head of the European Commission's Sports Unit, and Pat Cox, who was president of the European Parliament from 2002 until earlier this year. Velázquez provided a breakdown of the different bodies within the EU and described their functions to the delegates.
A central purpose of the EU's involvement in sport, he explained, was to highlight its educational and social function. Regarding Article 282, Velázquez foresaw "regular co-operation" with UEFA and other sporting federations, stressing that: "
The sports federations are our stakeholders and the natural people to consult."
Cox alluded to a year of change in Brussels when he spoke of "a challenging period of self-development and renaissance". Besides the EU's expansion to 25 member states, a new European Parliament was elected in June and a new European Commission will assume control in November. He also stressed the importance of "building bridges" and said that UEFA had achieved this through constructive dialogue with the EU.
The opening day closed with a panel discussion chaired by William Gaillard, UEFA's director of communications and public affairs, and involving four MEPs - Chris Heaton-Harris, Lasse Lehtinen, Joseph Muscat, José Ribeiro e Castro - and Gideon Rachman from The Economist.
The 35 UEFA member associations involved comprised those from the 25 EU member states, three countries (Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey) who are candidates to join the EU, and four European Economic Area countries.
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