The European Ombudsman has rejected a complaint submitted by the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA) concerning the European Commission’s failure to ensure the regulatory framework for online gambling in certain Member States was in line with EU law.
In previous years the EGBA had submitted a number of infringement complaints to the European Commission but the Commission did not follow up on these complaints and did not engage in an open dialogue with stakeholders, leading EGBA to call on the Ombudsman to intervene. However, during the course of the Ombudsman inquiry, in December 2017, the Commission decided to close all the open infringement complaints against Member States.
In its decision the Ombudsman concluded that “the Commission has wide discretion on whether and how to pursue infringement cases and that the decision taken fell within the boundaries of that discretion”. The Ombudsman found the Commission’s procedural handling of the infringement complaints had not committed maladministration. The Ombudsman has now closed the case, with no further appeal possible, noting that the underlying legal issues can be address at national level.
The Ombudsman’s decision, however, leaves unresolved how best action can be taken against those Member States who are found to be in breach of EU law. This uncertainty was further compounded on 28 February when the Hungarian Ministry of Justice issued a press release rejecting a European Court of Justice ruling earlier that day which had found Hungary’s gambling laws to be in breach of EU law. The Court ruling found that Hungary’s gambling law is in conflict with EU law and the Hungarian government cannot therefore impose enforcement measures on the basis of a national law which is in breach of EU law. However, the fact that the Hungarian authorities seem content to ignore this ruling brings into question the authority of the Court and the integrity of EU law.
“Infringements proceedings in this sector have become a complete mess since the Commission decided to wash its hands of its responsibility to ensure online gambling regulation in Member States is in line with EU law. While the Ombudsman’s decision is disappointing, it does confirm that the Commission’s decision to close these infringement cases was a political one. If the Commission is not taking seriously its responsibility to uphold EU law and ensure Member States, like Hungary, comply with EU Court of Justice rulings, then who will?” said Maarten Haijer, Secretary General of EGBA.