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Barroso labelled "dangerous" for European culture

The European film industry and European Commission (EC) at loggerheads over the question of the “cultural exception”, as director Costa-Gavras and The Artist actress Bérénice Bejo weighed in to the debate.

Speaking in Strasbourg on Tuesday evening after a meeting of European film-makers with EC president José Manuel Barroso, Greek director Costa-Gavras could hardly contain his anger and frustration as he dubbed Barroso “a very dangerous man for European culture”.

“After 1 ½ hours discussion, the man has only one idea in his head [and this] is to exclude the idea of cultural exception, that you can’t exclude it [from negotiations],” Gavras said.

This new low point in relations between representatives of the European film community and the EC comes just over two years after a delegation of France’s L’ARP, comprising Costa-Gavras, the late Theo Angelopoulos, Cristian Mungiu and Radu Mihaileanu met Barroso on the eve of the public hearing on the future of MEDIA in March 2011.

At that time, L’ARP declared:“President Barroso is a man of culture who shares the deeply-held belief of filmmakers that the MEDIA Programme should be upheld, in both its operational and budgetary autonomy.“

Disappointment

Romanian film-maker Radu Mihaileanu added that he was “terribly disappointed” by the meeting with Barroso.

”Everything was decided beforehand,” he said. ”Culture is not a commodity, it is a human right. It is not up for grabs.”

Referring to the so-called ”red lines” described by commissioners de Gucht and Vassiliou, which would place audiovisual services ”off limits” within the trade negotiations, Mihaileanu argued that such a strategy would be ”a sign of weakness in a negotiation (…) It would be better now to completely exclude.”

Moreover, he pointed out that the Americans, for their part, had already declared that the banking sector would be excluded from the TTIP talks.

And, before reading a letter from Wim Wenders stating that abandoning the cultural exception would be, among other things, absurd and suicidal, actress Bérénice Bejo observed that a film like The Artist – for which she received an Oscar nomination - ”would not have been produced if we had complete free trade with the Americans.”

Misunderstanding

Earlier in the day, Barroso had spoken after the meeting with the film-makers’ delegation of ”a misunderstanding” about the EC’s motivation for not insisting on a cultural exception in the mandate for the TTIP talks.

While pointing out that he was aware of the ”great sensitivities” about the EC’s plans, Barroso stressed that it would be ”a mistake from the beginning to exclude the audiovisual services. We believe it is better to put all the sectors in the negotiations, but with protection for the cultural sector.”

“It makes sense that the European Union or Member States have special rules of protection for cultural goods and cultural exchange. This is my position and the position of the European Commission,” he said.

Prism sours TTIP prospects

At the same time, the prospect of the forthcoming free-trade talks with the US was soured by the revelations this week of the secret American Prism programme used for mass surveillance of people’s personal data.

Speaking on behalf of the European Commission at a plenary session of the European Parliament on Tuesday, Tonio Borg, commissioner for health and consumer policy, said that “programmes such as the so-called Prism and the laws on the basis of which such programmes are authorised potentially endanger the fundamental right to privacy and to data protection of EU citizens.”

And in a press briefing, MEP Hanns Swoboda (S&D Group) declared with a nod in the direction of TTIP, that ”data protection is not an element we can sacrifice for an agreement with the United States of America.”

On Friday (June 14), the Council of EU Trade Ministers will decide on the negotiating mandate to be given to the European Commission to initiate talks with the US on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. (ends)

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