By GRAHAM DUNBAR, Associated Press
GENEVA (AP) — UEFA President Michel Platini won the support of the European Union's executive office on Wednesday to legally protect his plans to curb excessive spending by top soccer clubs.
UEFA and the European Commission reached agreement that Platini's financial fair play regulations conform with rules on government aid and fair competition.
Platini hailed the accord in a statement as a "decisive step to secure a prosperous and stable future for European football."
The European soccer body has said it expects future legal challenges from clubs that can be punished for spending more than they earn under financial rules effective last June.
UEFA promises it will bar the worst offenders from entering its lucrative Champions League competition — and defend its legal principles in European courts or the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
"For us, this (agreement) is a big milestone in the enforcement of financial fair play," UEFA secretary general Gianni Infantino told The Associated Press in Istanbul, where Europe's 53 soccer nations meet Thursday. "If somebody would like to file some sort of a complaint that the financial fair play rules would restrict competition (then) they have to file it to ... the European Commission."
The European Commission, which runs the day-to-day affairs of the 27-nation European Union and seeks to enforce its laws, wants to prevent clubs from getting public bailouts, which amount to unfair competition.
Clubs paying inflated transfer fees and wages was "unjustified" in the current economic climate of austerity, European Commission vice president Joaquin Almunia wrote in a letter to Platini.
Alumnia said the prudent financial fair play principle of "live within your means" would protect long-term interests of clubs and players.
"This principle is also consistent with the aims and objectives of European Union policy in the field of State Aid," Almunia wrote.
European aid policy allows subsidies in some cases to deal with temporary setbacks, but prohibits structural aid that distorts competition.
"From the State Aid point of view, there is a significant risk that football clubs will increasingly apply for financial help to the national, regional, or local public authorities in order to be able to continue playing professional football," the Brussels-based Almunia said.
The call to monitor public funding for clubs comes two weeks after a Council of Europe committee in Strasbourg, France, called on UEFA to ban state aid.
A Council sports panel singled out Real Madrid's 2001 sale to city authorities of a training ground on land that had been rezoned. The deal allowed Real to clear debts and fund spending on "Galactico"-era stars such as Zinedine Zidane and David Beckham.
UEFA and the European Commission pledged to ensure that financial fair play is applied uniformly to all clubs, and promised continued cooperation.
At its Congress Thursday, UEFA is expected to grant disciplinary powers to an expert panel, chaired by former prime minister of Belgium Jean-Luc Dehaene, which will monitor clubs' annual accounts.
Clubs will be permitted losses of $6.6 million in the first two years, or up to $60 million if a wealthy owner makes a one-off payment to clear debts. Only smaller losses will be allowed in subsequent three-year monitoring periods.
Exclusion from the Champions League or Europa League can be enforced by UEFA from the 2014-15 season onward.
Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Istanbul contributed to this report.
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