France has threatened to block the start of free trade talks between the European Union and the United States if movies and digital media are not kept out the negotiations. On the eve of EU countries supposedly giving the go-ahead for the talks, France said it would veto them unless the sector, which it sees as crucial to its cultural identity and under threat from Hollywood – is excluded.
Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told parliament: “France will go as far as using its political veto. This is about our identity, it’s our struggle,” suggesting the country would go as far as using its political veto.
“France defends and will defend the cultural exception (l’exception culturelle) to the end – that’s a red line,” Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti said, referring to current EU rules that allow governments to preserve ‘cultural diversity’ by setting subsidies and quotas that might otherwise be considered contrary to free trade.
The first round of talks – which would seek to establish free trade for a wide range of goods – has been tentatively scheduled for July, but both sides must first agree the scope of the negotiations, something EU trade ministers were scheduled to finalise on June 14. For the talks to start, EU trade ministers must reach a unanimous agreement in their discussions. France’s stance would appear to make that impossible at this stage.
While other EU countries want to protect against too much US content and preserve subsidies, they are happy with a compromise put forward by EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht. This would allow EU members to retain subsidies and quotas for traditional media, but leave space for US and European companies to compete in the rapidly developing Internet and digital areas, including TV on demand and music downloads. Britain, Germany and others argue that if the EU excludes the audio-visual sector completely, as France demands, the United States will exclude its own closed sectors.