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Mosley warns European Union

FIA President Max Mosley has warned the European Commission that if the international federation loses its fight over the question of unfair competition then motor sport in Europe will be seriously affected. Mosley's comments are the latest round of a verbal battle which has been going on for the last 12 months as the Commission prepares to try to force the FIA to adopt different working practices.

The Commission is rumored to be close to a ruling about the way in which the FIA is operated and how it breaches European anti-trust legislation and European Union competition laws.

The clash was sparked off a year ago when Bernie Ecclestone asked the EU to examine his arrangements with the FIA regarding the commercial rights of Grand Prix, in preparation for the flotation of his Formula 1 Holdings company. The European Competition Commissioner Karel Van Miert blocked the deal, claiming that the FIA was abusing a dominant position and using restrictive practices. Van Miert also attacked the structure of the FIA.

Mosley reacted by attacking the European Union for having "a very limited understanding of structures of national and international motor sport" and questioning the jurisdiction of the EU over sporting bodies.

Mosley initiated legal proceedings against the Commission claiming damages resulting from press leaks by Van Miert and his staff and threatened to pull the FIA out of Europe. Van Miert dismissed the legal action as "an attempt at intimidation".

Since then plans have been laid for the FIA to move to Geneva and Mosley has joined forces with other sporting bodies - under the auspices of the International Olympic Committee - to stop European Commission interference in sports.

One of the FIA's chief supporters in this issue is the German government which has long been campaigning for sport to be excluded from anti-trust legislation. It is worth noting that this support may disappear shortly as the country goes to the polls on September 27 and Chancellor Helmut Kohl is not expected to be re-elected.

With Van Miert's ruling imminent, Mosley's comments last week appear to be a final warning to the Commission. "If we lose this case," Mosley told a German newspaper, "we must decide what kind of motor sport can be organized in Europe and in what form". Mosley went on to say that the FIA represents 116 member countries while the European Union has only 15.

The fight is similar in many ways to the dispute between the FIA and the European Union last year over the issue of tobacco sponsorship when Mosley warned that F1 could quit Europe if tobacco sponsorship was banned. A compromise was reached whereby cigarette sponsorship will continue until the end of the year 2006.

The Commission needs to act shortly if it wishes to have any effect on the FIA as the Commission's term of office runs out in January 2000 and most of the Commissioners will be spending 1999 wheeling and dealing in the hope of retaining their jobs, rather than tackling difficult issues.

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