France Succeeds in Excluding Film from Trade Talks

Having threatened to veto negotiations altogether, France forces other European nations to protect media.

American film actress Audrey Hepburn in Paris, France, 1956
American film actress Audrey Hepburn in Paris, France, 1956 (Flickr/Fred Baby)

European Union trade ministers agreed late Friday night to exclude media from upcoming trade talks with the United States after France had threatened to veto the negotiations.

France insisted that Internet services, film and television be precluded from a prospective transatlantic investment and trade accord which the European Commission and the White House estimate could add half a percentage point to the national incomes of both economic blocs every year.

A day before ministers convened in Luxembourg on Friday, France’s culture minister Aurélie Filippetti vowed that her country would “defend the cultural exception to the end. That’s a red line.” Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault had similarly told parliament, “France will go as far as using its political veto. This is about our identify. It’s our struggle.”

The European Union allows member states to subsidize local films and other media to preserve their “cultural diversity,” rules that otherwise defy the bloc’s competition laws.

France’s foreign trade minister Nicole Bricq pointed out to reporters before meeting her European counterparts that American filmmakers already have a 60 percent share of European cinema but Europe’s share in America is between 3 and 6 percent.

America sell far more movies, music and television programs to European nations than it buys from them. Its net surplus for the sector averaged €1.5 billion per year between 2004 and 2011.

Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom and other Northern European states, which welcome the opportunity to deepen trade relations with the United States, had expressed concern that if Europe insisted on excluding media from the trade talks, the Americans might demand to exclude industries of their own, like cars or finance.

Britain’s prime minister David Cameron, who is one of the main champions of the trade agreement, argued in The Wall Street Journal last month that it made no sense to “exclude vital parts of the economy. Everything must be on the table,” he wrote.

Earlier this week, Germany’s economy minister Philipp Rösler cautioned, “We should avoid building up taboos at the moment.”

Bricq pointed out in an interview with the leftist Libération newspaper, however, that another industry, defense, had already been excluded beforehand “because we have no chance of selling our material to the Pentagon.” That exclusion was favored by Britain and Sweden as well.

Transatlantic trade negotiations are scheduled to commence next month. Many European states are still wary of liberalizing other industries than media, including agriculture and public services. The Americans maintain trade barriers of their own, in air passenger and financial services, while legislators are reluctant to expand foreign access to a variety of markets, mostly food but also biodiesel and ethanol production, for fear of job losses in their districts and states.

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