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Wenders: loss of 'cultural exception' would be disaster

German director Wim Wenders has waded into the increasingly fractious debate about the “cultural exception” possibly being abandoned in new trading relations between the EU and US. Wenders has insisted that the European film industry must have state subsidy and support if it is to survive.

“In Europe, cinema is part of our language, part of our culture, like painting or literature or music,” Wenders stated in a press briefing in Cannes. “If we accept the American proposition of using it (film) as industrial product, we pull the plug from our entire industry. A few years later, there will not be any more European movies.”

Wenders said the end of the “cultural exception” would be “a bigger disaster for Hollywood…if the entire underbelly of European movies was no longer there as a counterpart and enrichment.”

Hollywood, Wenders pointed out, draws heavily on Europe for remakes and as a source of new talent.

“If we pull the plug from European cinema, Hollywood would in the long run suffer just as badly.”

Thus far, close to 5,300 directors, writers, technicians, producers, distributors, exhibitors across Europe have already expressed their concerns at the idea that the “cultural exception” might be scrapped.

Eurocinéma, Europa Cinemas, Europa Distribution, Europa International, FIAD, SAA and UNIC are among the flagging their alarm that the European Commission has refused until now to pay attention to their protests.

These European organizations are calling on Member States and European leaders to take into account the issues and risks such a large negotiation mandate holds for cultural diversity.

They also want MEPs to adopt the draft opinion as it exists today. This draft opinion, voted in the International Trade Committee of the European Parliament, excludes the cultural and audiovisual sectors from the future trade negotiation between the United States and the European Union.

…but EC stands firm on US talks

By Martin Blaney

The European Commission shows no signs of wavering from its line that audiovisual services should be part of the forthcoming free-trade negotiations with the US.

Culture and Media Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou and France’s Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti, set to attend the European Rendezvous event in Cannes today [May 20], were in Brussels on Friday for the EU Culture and Media Ministers Council.

Ahead of that meeting, Filippetti and 14 other Culture Ministers had sent a letter to Ireland’s Culture Minister Jimmy Deenihan stating that “an entire policy of the European Union and its Member States would be compromised if the requested exclusion were not ensured.”

In an exchange of views at the Council, Commissioner Vassiliou said that she would be following the trade negotiations with the US from “my particular cultural diversity angle” and this would entail respecting “three clear red-lines”.

She declared that “the existing EU policies and instruments and corresponding measures at Member States’ level shall not be touched on during negotiations” and the same would apply for “the existing national measures to regulate the audiovisual sector and support domestic and European content.”

Thirdly, “we shall maintain our ability to continue adapting and developing meaningful policies for cultural diversity, both at EU and Member States’ level,” Vassiliou noted.

However, speaking after the Council meeting, Filippetti said that it was “absurd” that the cultural exception, which had held force for some 20 years, should now be dropped and argued that “Europe is not going to gain anything from having audiovisual services in the agreement.”

At the same time, demands that the cultural exception is non-negotiable are not shared by the Culture Ministers from the UK, Sweden, The Netherlands and Denmark, for example.

Moreover, EC President José Manuel Barroso made his position very clear in a meeting with French President Hollande last week by declaring that “in our opinion, we should not exclude the audiovisual sector negotiations with the United States,” while Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht commented at the European Business Summit: “If you spend too much time on issues, you might never achieve results.”

Meanwhile, the European film-makers’ petition calling for the cultural exception to be retained (www.lapetition.be) is close to 5,300 signatures.

 

 

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