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The external dimension of the EU Sport Diplomacy
I first would like to thank Mr Isidoros Kouvelos, the President of the prestigious International Olympic Academy, for this kind invitation to address the 59th International Session for Young Participants. I consider it as a rare chance to be given the opportunity to make this presentation at the real home of sports, at its birthplace!
It is for me a privileged occasion to explain what the EU is doing in the field of sport diplomacy, of external relations in sport, to underline what the Commission can bring to EU countries, sport organisations and clubs. It is also an opportunity to consider with you how we can cooperate with non-EU countries.
It is clear that European sport is undergoing substantial changes and facing new challenges which are largely common to other continents: increased commercialisation which brings more funding but also new dangers into sport, necessity to integrate migrants and refugees, more awareness of the sustainability and environmental concerns, increased strength of private actors challenging traditional federations and keen to create private leagues, development of new technologies, etc. These evolutions take place in a context where we can notice worrying trends in the level of physical activity of European citizens as well as changes in the ways of practicing sport: more individualism clearly... I would add that sport is no longer seen as being a purely leisure or well-being activity but more and more as a major tool of integration and education. Sport is also a major concern for politicians because of its major impact and the interest it generates in the population. Everybody is interested and most of the time passionate about sport.
I consider that we have a lot to learn from sport in international cooperation. Major sport organisations and federations have for a long time been organising themselves at international level and put in place umbrella structures. They have put in place international events and competitions. They have adopted common rules including the “rules of the game”. Given this, sport is a powerful tool in helping to ensure cooperation among countries, in promoting common values, and more generally, soft diplomacy.
The topics I will cover in this presentation will include the following:
• The basics about the place of sport in the EU policy
• The objectives and activities of the EU
• The concept of EU sport diplomacy
• Some recent policy developments in sport
• An example of bilateral cooperation, specifically that of the China dialogue
• The Erasmus+ programme and its international dimension
• An outline of some of the other EU funding tools available
• An overview of the European Week of Sport
• Our pilot projects, specifically that of mobility exchanges
And I will conclude with some considerations for the future.
So to begin with please allow me to provide a basic background to the framework we operate under.
With the Treaty of Lisbon in December 2009 a sport competence was introduced in the Treaty: Article 165 gives the spirit of what is expected from the EU in the field of sport.
Of particular importance coming from Article 165 of the TFUE is: “The Union shall contribute to the promotion of European sporting issues”. The EU action shall aim at “developing the European dimension in sport”, and the possibility to “adopt incentive measures, excluding any harmonisation of the laws and regulations of the Member States (…)”.
This can be considered as a perfect definition of the principle of subsidiarity. The EU intervenes if it can bring an added value. Otherwise, it is better to leave the national, regional or local actors to decide and organise their own rules and practices. This means that the EU competence in the area of sport remains limited.
The EU role is about supporting, coordinating and supplementing actions of Member States. Member States (or other public authorities) clearly have the basic competence in sport. And the Commission pays great attention in respecting the national, regional and local competences.
Following the Lisbon Treaty, many initiatives have been taken in the field of sport. However, these initiatives have to be coherent and respectful of the main objectives of the EU. At EU level we have a couple of objectives which are relatively similar to those pursued by Member States.
Firstly, we aim at raising the level of practice of sport and physical activity among EU citizens.
As I am sure you know, recent data released through the WHO and Eurobarometer have shown the worrying extent of obesity levels across the EU.
Physical inactivity is one of the leading causes of death worldwide and research has shown that for the first time in history this current generation may in fact have a shorter lifespan than their parents. This is partly due to the unhealthy lifestyles many people are living.
Our second objective is to use the integrational power of sport.
The recent migration trends which confronted Europe are an example of the changing nature of society. This changing demographic and social composition brings with it new challenges. As such, sport can be a useful tool for uniting people, for the inclusion of disadvantaged and marginalised groups and general societal cohesion.
Another key interest of the EU in sport is related to the promotion of sport competences and skills and to support coaching, training and dual career initiatives.
We also work on the acquisition of life skills through sport. Sport is not merely an entertainment source; it can provide a number of important life skills for participants. These skills can help contribute to lifelong employability and in this way, also better contribute to the economy as well as the prosperity and sustainability of a country.
Finally, there is the point of better governance and integrity in sport.
Numerous scandals in sport in recent years have begun to erode the positive view of many sports. This has an impact on many areas of life including the economy, health and general ethics. Examples of these problems include doping in sport or match fixing. Our interest in these areas therefore come from the perspective of protecting human health, ethics and European values, transparency and more. And it is also about the credibility of sport and its power of attracting people and money!
Since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the Commission has developed a coherent “thinking” in the field of sport and has produced some key documents
in order to explain its positions.
One major step forward has been the adoption of the Commission communication on “the European dimension of sport” in 2011.
We have also developed our work with other EU institutions, the Council for instance. Of particular interest and one that helps to guide some of our outputs is the EU Work Plan for Sport.
In the sport area the Commission must work closely with Member States.
The EU Work Plan for Sport can be considered as a sport action plan with a roadmap. The current one was adopted on 23 May 2017 and will run until December 2020.
It is basically about agreeing about priorities, fixing working methods, and identifying outputs.
From a more output driven perspective, we can look at the expert group deliverables. The basic concept of this action is that the Commission aids in bringing together a group of experts in a particular area from the Member States. European and international sporting bodies are invited as observers and bring a decisive knowledge. The groups are organised and chaired by the European Commission representatives. These groups then produce various outputs from guidelines to the exchange of best practices. Currently there are two expert groups, one on integrity and the second one on skills and human resources in sport.
The other major institution is the European Parliament which is clearly an important actor in the field of EU sport. During the last years a sport intergroup has been very active in promoting European sport and to supporting sport integrity and grassroots sport.
In this institutional context, the EU sport activity has increased considerably during the last years. In summary, our three main fields of intervention are
• Policy cooperation
The Commission organises a policy cooperation with Member States and sport organisations on all subjects of EU interest. The fight against doping, match fixing, the promotion of good governance principles, gender equality in sport and volunteering in sport are good examples of this cooperation. This is done in formal environments such as the sport Council. It can also take the form of the permanent dialogue the Commission is having with Member States and sport organisations, through ad-hoc meetings and events like the EU Sport Forum.
The Commission regularly undertakes initiatives such as the European Week of Sport, the #BeActive Awards, the #BeInclusive Awards, the “Tartu Call for a Healthy Life style”, etc.
We support financially sport organisations and all bodies dealing with sport through our Erasmus+ programme in particular.
The issue of sport diplomacy is relatively new in an EU perspective. Back in 2015 sport diplomacy was more just a concept than a reality in the Commission. Following the Commission’s conception, the Commission wanted to develop this tool further at EU level, because for the most part it was almost wholly an unexplored field for the EU at this time.
It was felt that sport should be better promoted in the EU’s external relations. More than this, that sport could be a useful and important tool in order to promote the democratic values the EU wanted to spread.
It has been shown that sport diplomacy can contribute to improve international relations in many different way, some of which I outlined previously. In all, sport diplomacy is really about the role sport can play in EU external relations. Let us remember Nelson Mandela who stated:
Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers. I think this quote speaks for itself. It is the idea guiding what we are doing in the field of sport diplomacy and sport in general.
With regards to policy developments over the past several years we have come a long way. Before 2015 the reflection had not really started. A key year has been obviously 2015 when, at the initiative of Commissioner Navracsics a High-Level Group on Sport Diplomacy was established. This group consisted of five experts, which included politicians, academics, athletes, representatives of major sport organisations, etc.
This high-level group produced a report in 2016 and highlighted recommendations in three key areas of what the EU can do with regards to the use and promotion of sport diplomacy to help reach its goals and these included recommendations on:
1) External relations
2) The promotion of EU values in major sport events
3) Development of an organisational culture of sport diplomacy
These works generated a major interest including at Council level. During the Slovak Presidency in November 2016, Council Conclusions on sport diplomacy were adopted. This political document was agreed with by all 28 Ministers responsible for sport. Basically, the document recognises that:
• Sport diplomacy can be understood as the use of sport as a means to influence diplomatic, intercultural, social, economic and political relations
Emphasis should also be placed on the role of sport in the European Union’s external relations, including the promotion of European values. As you can see this perfectly complements the emerging view of the Commission on the importance and value of sport diplomacy.
As a follow up of the work of the high-Level Group, in 2016 and 2017 the Commission also organised two Seminars on Sport Diplomacy.
This was in order to follow-up on the High-Level Group and moreover to take stock of the state of play of the role of sport in international relations. Furthermore in 2018 the Commission released a Study on Sport Diplomacy, which identified ongoing projects touching the concept of “sport diplomacy” and good practices. Basically it is a collection of good practices and funding possibilities for projects in the area of sport with an international dimension.
I would like to bring your attention to one particularly interesting cooperation which was launched in the area of sport diplomacy, the bilateral cooperation with China. A High-Level People-to-People Dialogue took place in November 2017. The interesting thing for sport here is that sport was on the agenda for the first time.
A special seminar on sport was actually held on 15 November 2017 and was attended not only by the Chinese High-Level representative and the Commission but also a group of experts from the European sporting world.
Let me now proceed onto the Commissions flagship programme for Education, Training, Youth and Sport the Erasmus+ programme.
To give you some idea of the specifics of this programme here are some numbers.
The total budget for the Erasmus+ Programme in the years 2014-2020 is EUR 16,454 Billion.
But more specifically, the Sport specific chapter has a dedicated budget of 265 Million for the same period.
There are three main funding categories for sport actions, these being:
• Collaborative partnerships (max. 400,000 €)
• Small collaborative partnerships (max. 60,000 €)
• Non-for profit sport events (max. 500,000 €)
These projects must not be solely national projects but rather European projects incorporating different partner organisations from different countries (most of the time three or five in the field of sport). Non EU partners can also take part.
This programme enables us to fund both projects and events.
It is clear that the international dimension of Erasmus+ is limited by our legal basis. Organisations participating in Erasmus+ projects must be established in a Programme Country.
On the other hand, organisations from Partner Countries can be involved in Erasmus+ Sport actions only as a partner (not as applicant).
Here you can see an overview of partner countries involved in the 2014- 2018 period and some stats about the projects they have had funded. Leading these figures for the time being is Switzerland with almost ¾ of a million Euro and 24 funded projects.
We also have a number of other funding tools at our disposal, these include the:
• European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI): Cross-border Cooperation
• Foreign Policy Instrument: IcSP (Instrument contributing to Stability and
• European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR)
• EU Peacebuilding Initiative
• Creative Europe
• Health programme
• Other parts of the Erasmus+ programme (such as Youth and Education)
Now some words about an initiative which has expanded a lot during the last years. My Commissioner most of the time refers to it as a “success story”.
The European Week of Sport is a Commission initiative aiming at promoting physical activity across Europe.
Encouraged by the European Parliament and also by our Member States, it started in 2015 and is growing every year. It takes place annually between 23 and 30 September.
It is largely decentralised: each Member State has a National Coordinating Body (NCB) which oversees the national activities. It involves partners from sport
movement (Olympic Movement, federations, sport for all organisations, etc.).
Each year there is also an official launching event. This year it will be in Finland on 23 September.
As part of the week there is also a special award organised, the #BeActive EU Sport Awards, which recognise the efforts of different individuals and organisations in the area of healthy lifestyles promotion.
In 2018 it was decided to expand this event beyond the borders of the EU.
The European Week of Sport is now open to the Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership Countries and regions.
To commemorate this, a series of special events were held in Belgrade in September 2018, two seminars, and a round table debate.
Finally, I would like to inform you about one particular action we are undertaking this year where funding is available thanks to the European Parliament.
It is a call for projects concerning exchanges and mobility in sport which was launched some days ago. Projects will have to integrate a non EU dimension.
They will be selected in the coming months and the Commission will implement the section edition of this call in 2020. Last year this call allowed us to develop
cooperation with countries such as China, Brazil, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ukraine, Montenegro, etc.
The objective is to encourage and provide sport staff (not athletes) to gain experience and improve their skills through an exchange period.
The budget for this year is currently of 1.4 million Euro. In 2018 we received 39 applications for the call and a total of seven projects were funded.
As you may know the EU institutions will probably face major changes before the end of the year. An EU Parliament has just been elected. In a couple of months, a new Commission with a new team of Commissioners will be in place bringing probably new ideas. The end of the year will be a key moment of discussion of the future programme for the generation 2021-2027. The perspectives for sport are looking good. In its proposal for an Erasmus programme 2021-2027 including sport, the Commission has proposed to double the budget. The sport part of the programme should be much more open to international cooperation and should therefore open new possibilities for sport diplomacy.
Articles & Publications
Articles & Publications