Written by Vivienne Halleux
Sport has a significant impact on the European Union (EU)’s economy and society, and its importance is growing. Sport-related employment has been estimated at 7.38 million people, equivalent to 3.51% of total EU employment, and the share of sport-related gross value added, at €294 billion (2.98% of total EU gross value added).
With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, the European Union acquired a specific competence for sport for the first time (in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union – TFEU), receiving a clear mandate to build up and implement an EUcoordinated sport policy supported by a specific budget line, and to develop cooperation with international bodies in the area of sport.
However, EU scope for intervention in sport, as enshrined in the Treaty, has limits. The supporting competence which has been conferred upon the Union implies that it can only intervene to support, coordinate or complement sport policy measures taken by its Member States. This rules out the adoption of European sport legislation or any other legally binding measure. EU scope for action is further limited by the need to take into account the specific nature of sport and to respect the autonomy of sport’s governing structures. These two principles, deeply intertwined and vigorously defended by the sport movement, are subject to different interpretations and remain a sensitive issue in relations between the EU and sport stakeholders.
Against this background, the EU has turned to ‘soft’ policy-making instruments, including dialogue, political cooperation, establishment of guidelines or recommendations and provision of funding in support of sport-related objectives. Funding is an important policy tool in itself. For this reason, the introduction of a dedicated budget line for sport, in which the European Parliament played an important role, is of great significance. In the period 2014-20, around €265 million will be available under the Erasmus+ sport chapter to tackle threats to the integrity of sport, intolerance and discrimination; promote good governance, dual careers of athletes, voluntary activities, social inclusion, equal opportunities and health-enhancing physical activity. All these priorities correspond to key fields of EU activity in sport.
Since many competences in the field of sport lie with Member States, the possibility to add value is necessary to justify EU action. Areas identified for action include, for instance, the lack of comparable data on the EU sport sector or transnational challenges encountered by sport such as doping or match-fixing. There, however, the EU must reckon with other actors, such as the Council of Europe, which has been active for almost 40 years in the field of sport and is also at the origin of key binding instruments.
Direct EU responsibility for sport is recent, and it is still too early to gauge the impact of EU soft policy-making in sport, especially since some of its outcomes and concrete expressions still need to be implemented. EU cooperation structures, in contrast, have already been subjected to an evaluation in 2014, in the context of the assessment report on the implementation of the first EU Work Plan for Sport. While welcoming a strengthening of cooperation on sport and the improvement of political coordination at EU level, the report pointed to desirable changes, notably regarding the structures for dialogue with stakeholders.