EU Spokesman: Bulgaria's Gambling Law Must Apply to Everybody

Novinite Insider » INTERVIEW | November 30, 2006, Thursday // 00:00| Views: | Comments: 0
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Oliver Drewes is spokesman for the internal markets commissioner, Charlie McCreevy. He was approached by Darik Radio to comment amendments to Bulgarian law on gambling.

Tsvetana Minkova from Darik News spoke to Oliver Drewes.

Q: Do you think changes in the law for gambling might lead to some impediments for competition in this area in Bulgaria?

A: We have a policy of not commenting on amendments of specific laws before we've seen the law or the particular amendment so it is very difficult for me to comment something, which I haven't seen. I can tell you what the general point of view of the Commission is on the issues concerned. It is a matter, which is governed by the basic treaties along with some case law of the Court of Justice. This means we have no harmonization of that area on the European level and each member state can have its own proper policy as long as basic treaty provisions are not violated. For example if you think of classical treaty obligations in respect of free movement of services that means within the EU you can deliver services across borders. That is the basic freedom. On the other hand you can restrict that freedom for certain purposes, for example for protection of minorities or certain health concerns. That's generally accepted, also for prohibitive actions so that people don't get addict or whatsoever. Member states can design their own policy in that respect but when they do so they have to really respect the principle of non discrimination. So that when you introduce these restrictions they must apply to everybody in the same way.

Q: The EC has started some legal actions against some cases of violation in member states.

A: We did start legal actions in up to ten cases involving at least nine member states. You can put restrictions on services in this area if it is for example a bar, or as you know, there are also special polices designed for bar opening hours or drunk people being allowed into bars. There are different views on that in member states and it is allowed that you restrict people under 18 or 21 for going in a bar. But when you put these restrictions, you have to set up a system where each and everybody is treated in the same way.

Q: Are these restrictions valid for both state institutions and the private sector?

A: The government may put limits and obligations that everybody is treated the same. For example the government may say the state operator must pay certain amount into the public finance, for the public good you can put the same obligations for the private operator.

Q: Are there examples of violation on the laws?

A: Certainly there are examples for that and it is not against European law. Everybody has to pay taxes so at least companies have to pay taxes too. It's generally accepted practice in case law.

Q: What is the aim of these measures?

A: Those are measures to protect minors or people from getting addicted to gambling activities and that is a policy which the member state can set up. That should be a general policy that should apply to all operators.

Q: What penalties can be imposed on countries for violations on the law?

A: There is one common line in all the cases, that is, the preferential treatment is given to certain operators and not to others. According to the treaty rules and principles you have to respect free movement of services. Of course you can put certain restrictions. The common procedure that goes between the Commission and the member states is that the state has to put in line with community law and is then obliged to change its law. There could be punishment, but it is applied in a very small number of cases. Usually of the country does not change the law, it is imposed a fine.
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