European Film Stars Urge Exclusion of Culture From EU-U.S. Talks

European film directors and actors called for audiovisual works to be excluded from planned free-trade talks with the U.S., highlighting hurdles to an accord that would expand the world’s largest economic relationship.

Greek-French movie director Costa Gavras and French actress Berenice Bejo were part of a film-industry delegation that showed up at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, yesterday to say the “cultural exception” isn’t negotiable.

“We risk seeing only American works,” Gavras told reporters in the 27-nation European Union assembly. “It’s a cultural invasion. We don’t want that.” In a non-binding resolution last month, the EU Parliament itself urged the exclusion of “cultural and audiovisual services, including those provided online,” from negotiations with the U.S.

The audiovisual industry represents some of the pitfalls in any EU-U.S. push for a broad free-trade pact, eliciting protectionist sentiments in a French-led group and splitting policy makers in Europe. Agriculture is another politically sensitive area.

On June 14, EU trade ministers are due to decide whether to authorize the start of talks with the U.S. on removing tariffs, easing regulatory barriers and expanding access in investment, services and public procurement. The European Commission, the EU’s trade authority, would lead the negotiations for the European side.

The Brussels-based commission has rejected calls for an exclusion of the audiovisual sector. Instead, the commission has proposed fixing “concrete redlines” for the negotiations to ensure European policies to promote cultural works aren’t jeopardized.

Cultural Diversity

“The issue is not whether cultural diversity needs to be defended, but what is the best way to pursue this overriding objective of general interest whilst seeking an ambitious agreement with the U.S.,” the commission said in a position paper on the matter.

One redline recommended by the commission would protect 2010 EU legislation requiring broadcasters to reserve for European works a majority share of their transmission time. This law also reserves for European “independent” works at least 10 percent of broadcasters’ transmission time or at least 10 percent of their programming budget.

A second redline would protect all forms of subsidies to the audiovisual industry in the EU.

Soft Loans

EU nations support films to the tune of around 3 billion euros ($4 billion) a year, including 2 billion euros in grants and soft loans and 1 billion euros in tax incentives, according to the commission, which says most of this aid comes from France, the U.K., Germany, Italy and Spain.

In addition, the EU itself backs audiovisual works through a seven-year program that has a budget of 755 million euros, according to the commission.

A third red line outlined by the commission would preserve the right of the EU and its member nations to adapt legislation to the digital environment.

The film-industry representatives, among 7,000 backers of a petition to keep audiovisual matters out of the planned free-trade talks with the U.S., said nothing but a blanket exclusion would suffice.

“I am worried,” said Bejo, who has starred in films such as “The Artist” and “The Past.”

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