Brussels - The European Commission on Wednesday gave the Italian region of Calabria five days to explain why it is using 1.8 million euros (2.6 million dollars) in community funds to sponsor the national football team.
"The European Commission has asked Calabria for certain clarifications about this particular investment," said Dennis Abbott, the spokesman of Regional Policy Commissioner Danuta Hubner.
Calabria forms the tip of Italy's boot, and as one of the country's poorest regions is eligible for EU regional aid.
And local authorities have decided to spend 6 million euros in EU funds to promote the region as a tourist destination.
However, the commission is now questioning the wisdom of devolving almost a third of this money to sponsor the Azzurri, as the national team is known, in the run up to the
2010 World Cup.
Regions are given "quite a large scope" to decide how they should invest their EU funds, "but we don't just turn up with a suitcase of EU taxpayer's money and say: there you go, enjoy," Abbott said.
Abbott said Calabria's plans would be subjected to a thorough auditing process.
Should auditors decide that that particular expenditure is not worth it, "then Calabria will have to pay that money back to the commission", Abbott said.
The commission also criticized Calabria's decision to spend a further 500,000 euros in EU money on a promotional campaign featuring AC Milan footballer Gennaro Gattuso, a native Calabrian and a popular member of the Azzurri team.
Gattuso has said he will devote the money to his Forza Ragazzi charity, which has built sports facilities in a bid to help Calabria's poorest youths.
"The investment in the foundation run by Mr Gattuso would appear not to have been eligible for this funding," Abbott said.
Calabrian officials have been given until next Monday to justify their plans. (dpa)