EU member states will face infringement procedures if their national football leagues apply FIFA's nationality-based quota on players, with the Commission saying it violates the principles of non-discrimination and freedom of movement of workers.
"The Commission shows the red card to the FIFA '6 + 5' rule," said Employment Commissioner Vladimir Špidla on 28 May, ahead of the international football association's annual congress, which will decide on the introduction of the rule on 29 May in Australia.
Under the '6 + 5' rule, at least six players on the field at the beginning of each match would have to come from the country of the club they are playing for. According to the Commission, limiting the number of foreign players in club competitions constitutes discrimination based on nationality.
Meanwhile, the executive's White Paper on Sport adopted in July 2007 acknowledged the autonomy of sporting organisations and representative structures and recognised that governance is mainly the responsibility of respective sports governing bodies.
"The professional footballers are workers, therefore the principles of non-discrimination and freedom of movement must be respected. The Bosman ruling was very clear on this," said Špidla. He added that as the rule is incompatible with EU law, the Commission would not hesitate to launch infringement procedures against any of the EU 27 if they were to adopt the rule.
Instead, the EU executive backs the UEFA 'home-grown' rule, according to which football clubs need to have a minimum number of locally-trained players in the team of core players, but does not impose nationality quotas. The UEFA rule "seems to me to be proportionate and to comply with the principle of free movement of workers," said Špidla, commenting on the outcomes of a specific study on UEFA's 'home-grown' rule, published on 28 May 2008.
A Commission study concluded that the UEFA rule does not lead to direct discrimination on the basis of nationality, but that a risk of indirect discrimination on the basis of nationality exists as access to clubs' training centres is easier for the young national players rather than players from the other member states.
Therefore, the Commission said it will "closely monitor" the implementation of the UEFA rule and undertake "a further analysis of its consequences by 2012" in order to assess its implications in terms of the principle of free movement of workers.
"The 'home-grown' rule is not perfect and is fairly modest in its approach, but it does encourage clubs to invest more in locally-trained talent and therefore deserves our full support," said MEP Ivo Belet (EPP-ED). EU Education Commissioner Ján Figel' also believes the UEFA rules will help avoid the risk of top professional football clubs abandoning training structures.
The Commission's statement on the player quotas come just days before the start of the EURO 2008 in Austria and Switzerland on 7 June.