Sep 06 2010
Lisbon Treaty can help nations encourage national talent and save bEUtiful game
The perception many in Scotland and the UK have of the Lisbon Treaty is a negative one, that it was designed by foreigners – Brussels Bureaucrats – to take away our sovereign power. That it’s all part of, in the words of Nicholas Ridley, ‘a German racket designed to take over the whole of Europe’, adding, that giving up sovereignty to Brussels was a bad as giving in to Adolf Hitler.
Like her pal, Old Nick, Margaret Thatcher was paranoid when it came to the European Union (EU). In her eyes we all risked being squeezed into a sausage machine that would ‘fit us into some identikit European personality’.
Of course this political caricature could not be further from the truth. Since the Second World War the EU has allowed the small and medium sized nations of Europe to live and work together for prosperity and peace: to come together on many important issues, to compete with the USA and not be left behind by the emerging mega states of China and India. The EU has allowed us to maintain our identities as small nations but compete as a large bloc. Rather than smashing the nation state the EU has helped preserve it.
That coming together in a Union of nations that helps preserve identity and uniqueness could not be better illustrated than in sport. I remember when I first became an MEP, representing Edinburgh and the Lothians, the European Commission came up with some hair-brained schemes to make people feel more European. One of them was that we should field a European team in the World Cup. I had to point out that even though Scotland and England had been in a political union since 1707, the idea of forming part of a joint football team was inconceivable.
What appears to me to be what is driving people into identikit personalities, is money, profits, commerce, and multi-national capital . This is well illustrated by the situation soccer is getting into, especially in the English premier league where money and the desire for profits is driving out local identity and the desire to ‘play for your shirt’ or give your all for your cap. It is stifling indigenous youth talent. Talent is being bought in from abroad rather than nurtured at home. A lose – lose situation for both nations.
The new sports competence in the EU Lisbon Treaty could change all that.
Section 2 of the Article on Sport calls upon the Member States to begin ‘developing the European dimension in sport, by promoting fairness and openness in sporting competitions and cooperation between bodies responsible for sports, and protecting the physical and moral integrity of sportsmen and sportswomen, especially the youngest sportsmen and sportswomen’.
This new competency has been interpreted as opening the door for FIFA, football’s governing body, to implement the 6+5 rule; something the English Football Association thought it had kicked into touch using the EU Single Market Rules on freedom of movement.
Basically the 6+5 rule is this: at the beginning of every match, each club must field at least 6 players eligible to play for the national team of the country of that club. Contrary to what many think the 6+5 rule does not contravene the European Labour Law on the freedom of movement. Clubs are still free take to on as many foreign players as they want. However, when the match kicks off they have to have six players on the pitch who are able to play for the national side.
If we add to this the fact that UEFA are currently looking at the possibility of banning the transfer of players aged 17 and under, this would definitely mean that domestic talent would once again come to the fore in league teams throughout the world.
A recent (2009) European study showed that in the five main European Championships (Germany, England, Spain, France and Italy) a slight majority of teams were not far away from 6+5. However, 43% of squads were made up of players that would fall foul of the 6+5 rule. England was the worst offender with 50% above the mark.
In that study Liverpool were the worst example of a club which does not promote domestic talent. Of the 27players in the reserve squad, 19 of those were foreign. Of the 40 players in the first team squad, only 10 were English and this is a trend that is becoming more apparent in the modern game throughout Europe and specifically amongst teams who are ever present in the Champions League.
It will be hugely ironic, but within the reality of the wider politics, if the Lisbon Treaty, far from making us more European revives our local and national fortunes in sport.
David Martin is Scotland’s senior MEP and is due to speak at a major seminar on ‘The impact of the EU and the Lisbon Treaty on Sport in Scotland’, which the European Parliament Office in Scotland is hosting with the Scottish Sports Association on Friday 10 September 2010.