European Commission calls for reduction in football transfer fees

Labour Party

The measures agreed voluntarily by the Premier League last week will dramatically reduce transfer spending  by England’s top football clubs.  The last decade has seen some truly astronomical amounts of money going on transfers. I can only assume that the Premier League took pre-emptive action in the face of massive pressure, from both UEFA and the EU, to curb expenditure.

The European Commission has welcomed the reforms with Androulla Vassiliou, the European Commissioner responsible for sport, stating:

“The Premier League’s decision to introduce new financial regulations in order to improve the financial sustainability of its clubs is definitely a move in the right direction. It follows the same principle as UEFA’s Financial Fair Play initiative and will secure long-term viability that can only benefit the league, the clubs, the fans and the game,”

The new rules, agreed in principle by the 20 clubs in the Premier League, mean that from next season Premier League clubs will not be allowed to make a total loss of more than £105 million over the next three seasons. Teams that break the rules could face a deduction in points.

The decision by the Premier League clubs was announced on the same day as the European Commission published a study calling for changes to international rules on transfer fees.

Football, clubs spend around €3 billion a year on player transfers, but very little of this money trickles down to smaller clubs or the amateur game, according to a European Commission study published today. The number of transfers in European football more than tripled in the period 1995-2011, while the amounts spent by clubs on transfer fees increased seven-fold. But most of the big spending is concentrated on a small number of clubs which have the largest revenues or are backed by very wealthy investors. The situation is only increasing the imbalances that exist between the haves and have-nots, as less than 2% of transfer fees filter down to smaller clubs and amateur sport which are essential for developing new talent. The level of redistribution of money in the game, which should compensate for the costs of training and educating young players, is insufficient to allow smaller clubs to develop and to break the strangle-hold that the biggest clubs continue to have on the sport’s competitions.

Transfer rules are set by the sport governing bodies – for example, FIFA for football and FIBA for basketball. FIFA’s online Transfer Matching System (TMS), which is used by 4 600 clubs worldwide, has increased transparency in international transfer operations but more needs to be done at national level. The report finds that the current system continues to mostly benefit the wealthiest clubs, superstar players and their agents.

It recommends that FIFA and national football associations’ rules should ensure stronger controls over financial transactions and for the introduction of a ‘fair-play levy’ on transfer fees, beyond an amount to be agreed by the sport’s governing bodies and clubs, to encourage a better redistribution of funds from rich to less wealthy clubs.

The report also calls for full implementation of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rule and stronger ‘solidarity mechanisms’ to enhance youth development and the protection of minors.

Early Childhood Education and Care in Budapest

Labour Party

As you will have seen from the blog I posted yesterday I am in Budapest at a conference on early years education and care, ECEC, organised by the Hungarian presidency.

It has been an excellent event with experts from all over the EU and beyond. I was pleased today to be part of a panel discussion picking up on the main themes of the last day and a half. My fellow panellists were Peter Moss of the Thomas Coram Research Institute in London who did an excellent job chairing the panel, Bernard Rorke from the Open Society Institute which works with the Roma community in Europe, Benoit Parmentier of Europe de LEnfance in Belgium, Marta Korintus from the Hungarian National Institute for Family and Social Policy and Kari Jacobsen, from Norway, not an EU member, who is the former Head of the OECD Early Childhood Education and Care Network. 

I talked about the need to ensure adequate funding for ECEC since all the academic theories and exchanges of good practice will not get us anywhere unless there is enough money to improve and expand ECEC services. It is my firm view that ECEC should be universal, and we have a long way to go in Britain to achieve that. I also referred the conference to my Report to the European Parliament on early years education and care which will go to the plenary in either April or May.

Yesterday I was privileged to visit a literacy project for 10 and 11 year olds with Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou, pictured, after she had opened the conference in the morning. The project was not quite what we in the UK expect when we talk about literacy, being bilingual in Hungarian and English. The children all had an excellent grasp of English and were completely fluent. This only serves to demonstrate that young children can become proficient in a foreign languauge if taught well.

I think it probably helped that the project was based in largest public library in Budapest, a beautiful 19th century building housing more than 800,000 books. The old building theme continued yesterday evening when the conference was invited to the Museum of Hungarian Folk Art, another very grand building of a similar age.

My thanks to the Hungarian Presidency and everyone who organised this conference which has proved a very worthwhile event. It is very good to see the Presidency give priority to ECEC and also to see the Commission taking it up by producing a Communication which has just been published. My Report provides the third part of the initiative and it is heartening indeed to see all three European Institutions working together in such a positive way.

David Willetts’s Claim that University Fees are a Form of Income Tax will exacerbate the Economic Downturn

Labour Party

I am completely with those who know, the lecturers and, dare I say the students, that university charges of up to £7,000 would create a two-tier system where only the rich are able to go to university.  This would be far worse than when I was an undergraduate when grants created a relatively level playing field, even if it was for only 10 percent of the eligible population.  The Tory proposals (they are Tory rather than Coalition) will mean a return to those mercifully far off times when the rich held all the cards and no-one else got much of a look in.

Forget what happens in the United States.  Our culture is different.  There is no reason as far as I can see to think that very high university fees would somehow or other lead to scholarships and other forms of higher education philanthropy.  There are no plans for such changes and they will not happen on their own.   

The EU is at present very concerned with issues to do with young people.  The new EU 20/20 programme puts education at its centre, and the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barosso, will launch a new agenda for young people, Youth on the Move, very shortly.

Unless urgent measures are taken to make sure young people have jobs and that youth unemployment is kept down, we will see ever growing numbers of young people who are out of work.  The financial crisis makes it ever more important that we keep you people in jobs.  If we fail to do this, there will, I believe, be a return to the 1980s when Mrs Thatcher’s callous attitude put record numbers of young people on the dole, a personal and a national tragedy.

The EU 2020 uses the fact of the financial crisis as it’s jumping off point.   Its targets are all in some way related back to solving the problems that arise from the downturn or are looking for ways to make our way out it.

The unfortunate truth of this and any financial crisis is that the most vulnerable are usually the worst affected, and the younger generation are part of this group.  People just starting out in life at this time are going to have far more limited opportunities than they would have done even a few years ago.  Youth unemployment has risen dramatically. To further compound this problem, the global economic crisis has led to budget cuts in the education sector in member states across the EU.  This has led to academic staff lay-offs and the increased demands on teachers risk a sharp decline in the standard of teaching in these countries.

 The Commission EU 2020 Strategy and Annual Legislative Programme  sets out five main objectives, two of which are directly related to education and young people as follows: to enhance the performance of education systems, reinforce the attractiveness of Europe’s higher education system, open up more mobility and training programmes for young people, modernise labour markets, boost labour mobility, and develop skills and competences to increase labour market participation.

The Spanish education minister (Spain currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency) Angel Gabilondo has said that education is “at the heart” of the EU 2020 strategy.  These sentiments have been echoed by Androulla  Vassiliou, the Commissioner with responsibility for education.

 The Spring Council, in endorsing the EU 2020 strategy, stated key objectives requiring action at the EU level included: better conditions for research and development; improved education levels; a reduction in early school leavers; and increased participation of young people in the labour market.

In the European Parliament we in the Socialist and Democrat Group are committed to making sure that education is at the forefront of our policy agenda.  We will work to make sure that young people get the help and support they need in these difficult times.

 I find this focus on youth policy very encouraging.  Clearly young people are not seen as a problem, but an incredibly important part of the solution.  The financial crisis has had a disastrous effects but has also made the EU, and I hope, most member state governments, really think about how important education and youth policy is.  I believe we can emerge from this financial crisis with an education and youth policy that gives the younger generation more and better opportunities than they ever had before.  The consequences in increased welfare spending and broken communities will indeed be serious if we do not.

The work of the Culture and Education Committee since the Election

Labour Party

Last  Friday I had one of my regular meetings with the British Culture Trade Unions to discuss developments in Europe. The picture shows me with from left to right Louise McMullen from Equity (thanks to Equity for hosting the meeting), Tony Lennon and Andy Egan from BECTU, Hatice Ozdemirciler of the UK Film Council and Peter Thoms from the Musicians Union. Here is the written report I provided them,  I think it is a useful summary for anybody interested in the work of the Culture and Education Committee in the European Parliament. Regular readers may be familiar with some of these subjects already!

The Culture and Education Committee in 2009

Last September, I became the Coordinator of the Socialists and Democrats on the Culture and Education Committee.  Carrying on the work from the previous Parliament, the Culture and Education Committee helped establish the European Year of Volunteering for 2011, which will help promote volunteering as an important part of our civic society.  The Culture and Education Committee was also busy with the hearings for the new European Commission.  Androulla Vassiliou, the new Culture and Education Commissioner, gave a convincing performance in her hearing and responded well to my question on how we might use culture and education to fight social inequality.  If you would like to know more then please read my blog on the subject here.

Online Content and Creative Rights

In the last few months I have had the pleasure of taking part in numerous events and panel discussions focusing on the somewhat fraught issue of online content and creative rights.  These debates have shown what a complex and emotive subject copyright can be.  I have met with people from the Creative Industries at every level from across Europe, they have been very helpful and informative about this issue and their contributions will be most useful when we eventually draft legislation.  The Commission’s recent reflections paper on the subject failed to give any concrete answers to this difficult problem and neither the Liberals nor the European Peoples’ Party seem close to developing an opinion on this important issue.  Nevertheless, we will hopefully be seeing developments in the next few months, with a new report coming from the Commission, and a public hearing being held in March in the European Parliament.  This is one of the big issues in the Culture and Education Committee, and as the Coordinator for the S&D group, I will be working with my colleagues to make sure we find the right solution.

Vocational Qualifications

One of the main things I hope to focus on in the next year is Vocational Qualifications.  There is a push now to get Vocational Qualifications mutually recognised across the member states.  Vocational Qualifications provide training and skills directly relevant to jobs, yet they are wrongly viewed by many as the “soft option”.  It is time that we in the Parliament worked to change this perception.  In this economic downturn, in a world of intensified global competition, with a high number of low skilled workers, and an aging population, Vocational Education and Training can play a key role in ensuring Europe’s future competitiveness and innovation. 

The LUX Prize

As well as the important work of the Culture and Education Committee, I also have the privilege of participating in projects such as the LUX prize.  The European Parliament awards a prize every year to a film that has relevance to issues surrounding Europe and the EU.  This year’s nominees were all excellent; with Eastern Plays and Sturm coming a close second and third to the very moving French film, Welcome. I blogged on the issue so if you would like to know more then you can read about it here.

Future Work of the Committee

Regarding the next six months in the Culture Committee, there have been some encouraging signs from the Spanish, who hold the presidency for the next six months.  Their culture minister, Angeles Gonzales-Sinde, gave an impressive presentation to the Culture and Education Committee where she stated that one of her top priorities was to consolidate culture as a significant factor in economic growth and social cohesion.  I find this particularly encouraging as an MEP for London, where the Cultural industries are second only to finance in terms of economic importance.  I am therefore looking forward to working with Mrs. Gonzales-Sinde to achieve this very important goal.

At last we have a European Commission

Labour Party

José Manuel Barroso

Cathy Ashton

Viviane Reding

Joaquín Almunia

Siim Kallas

Neelie Kroes

So we now have a European Commission, a mere eight months after the European elections at the beginning of June last year.  It’s been an interminably long process for no particular reason that is immediately obvious.

Yes, we did have the problems with Mrs Jeleva, Bulgaria’s original nominee for Commissioner who proved to be not up to the job at her European Parliament Committee Hearing and has now been replaced by Kristalina Georgieva.  While this necessitated another hearing, that’s hardly a good reason for the whole business taking eight months.

The fact that the EU moves slowly is hardly news.  More interesting is the decision taken by the ECR (the political group founded and largely made up of British Tories) to abstain when the European Parliament voted to agree the new European Commission yesterday. 

Antonio Tajani

Janez Potočnik

Olli Rehn

Andris Piebalgs

Michel Barnier

Androulla Vassiliou

Abstention seems a cowardly approach, neither one thing or the other.  If you don’t like the new arrangements, have the courage of your convictions and vote against. 

Jan Zahradil who spoke on behalf of the ECR during the debate in the European Parliament didn’t manage to shed much light on their pusillanimous behaviour, saying to Mr Barroso, Commission President,  “In 2005, you came up with the idea of cutting red tape by simplifying legislation. Why not revive this idea now?” He added “If you demonstrate that you’re a reformer, we shall back you, but if you follow well-trodden paths, we shall stand up and resist you”.  If the ECR doesn’t like Barroso, they should, of course, put their money where their mouth is and not hide behind abstaining.

Inevitably there have been criticisms of the way Barroso put together his team of Commissioners and allocated portfolios.  I have to say I am not at all happy with the way portfolios do not correspond to the work of European Parliament Committees.  For instance, on the Culture and Education Committee we have Mrs. Vassiliou as our main Commissioner covering education, culture, multilingualism and youth.  However we also have to deal with Neelie Kroes on the digital agenda and Vivian Reding for some of the wider communication brief including media pluralism.  This lack of alignment of portfolios to Committee responsibilities will, I believe, have the effect of weakening European Parliament Committees in their dealings with Commissioners, i.e. Barroso will stand a better chance of getting his agenda through.

President Barroso’s leadership style has, in fact, caused much consternation.  The Green Group put forward a motion, which was subsequently rejected, to the plenary session on the European Parliament yesterday.  I did, however, agree with some of it, notably its statement that Mr Barroso has weakened the position of individual Commissioners-designate by implementing a policy of divide and rule i.e. by defining and allocating portfolios without proper consideration for their abilities and affinities, and has even moved Commissioners away from portfolios in which, to date, they have demonstrated their competence.  This policy has arguably led, inter alia, to the resignation of one of the nominees.

The resolution went on to note that Mr Barroso has reshuffled portfolios within the Commission in a such a way that there is no clear division of responsibility in some key areas, thus confirming the trend towards a presidential model for the Commission, with the risk that the role of individual Commissioners may be reduced to that of advisors to the President, a state of affairs at odds with the spirit of the Treaties.  You may at this point be forgiven for thinking that Mr Barroso is seeking to become the real President rather than one of equal status to the EU’s other four presidents.

Meanwhile, here is the new European Commission as approved by the European Parliament yesterday.

Maroš Šefčovič

Dacian Cioloş

Kristalina Georgieva

Cecilia Malmström

Johannes Hahn

László Andor

Stefan Füle

Connie Hedegaard

Günther Oettinger

Maria Damanaki

Janusz Lewandowski

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn

John Dalli

Karel De Gucht

Algirdas Semeta

The Hearing of Androulla Vassiliou

Labour Party

I’ve just come from the Culture and Education Committee’s hearing for Androulla Vassiliou, Commissioner-Designate for Culture, Education, Multiligualism, and Youth.  Mrs Vassiliou is the Commissoner-Designate from Cyprus and held the public health commission portfolio in the last Parliament.

As Co-ordinator for the Socialists and Democrats, I asked the second question, which was:

“Do you agree that the new EU 2020 strategy must include a strong social dimension and thereby contribute towards the fight against inequalities, social exclusion and poverty?

My Group, the S & D Group, calls for the Commission to put the interests of citizens at the heart of its 2020 strategy, particularly in this time of economic hardship, by opening up opportunities for a decent job through better quality education and professional training, which in turn promotes integration and social inclusion. Do you agree?”

She did agree, and her answer demonstrated an understanding of what we can do to improve people’s lives through better educational opportunities.  Ms. Vassiliou did not perhaps provide a huge amount of detail in how she was planning to do this, but I was encouraged by what she said.  Throughout her hearing she was enthusiastic and obviously very committed to her prospective job.

Ms. Vassiliou made a number of other interesting points, I was especially interested by her desire to encourage more women in to scientific research and more men in to teaching.  She had statistics that showed that a disproportionate number of women were teachers and men scientists.  Ms. Vassiliou stated that this was an issue which she would like to address.

Commissioner-Designate Vassiliou also answered questions on higher education and vocational training, lifelong learning, youth policy, multilingualism and sport, among others.  She answered well on all the topics, with the possible exception of sport.  Her nomination as Commissioner has been endorsed by the S & D Group and also by the Culture Committee Co-ordinators from all the political groups. 

I hope that Ms. Vassiliou will live up to the promises she made in the Hearing.  If she can then she will be a strong Commissioner, who I shall look forward to working with.