The European Commission (EC) today took the first step toward building a possible audiovisual cooperation programme with countries outside the European Union (EU).

The MEDIA programme - the EC's support scheme for the audiovisual industry -published a call for proposals for cooperation projects with so-called 'third' countries, which could involve links to anywhere from Asia to North America.

The Commission's aim is to strengthen cooperation between audiovisual industries around the globe, as well as encouraging the two-way flow of cinematographic works.

This is an ambitious step forward in broadening the scope of the programme as the current MEDIA 2007 programme is largely limited to EU member states and those countries that have 'privileged links' to Europe. That includes 'privileged' countries in the European Economic Area (EEA) such as Norway, or candidate countries for EU membership, such as Croatia.

MEDIA 2007 does provide a formula to allow limited cooperation with non-EU countries that meet certain criteria, but since no-one has applied to utilise this 'cooperation formula' since the MEDIA programme was first introduced in 1991 the Commission felt it needed to do more to extend the international dimension of EU audiovisual policy.

The EC believes progress in this area will help build the legal foundation for a possible programme of audiovisual cooperation between the EU and 'third' countries.

The latest initiative was made possible by an agreement made at the European Parliament in December 2006, which earmarked a budget of Euros 2m for preparatory work in this area. Among the 'actions' envisaged are:

  • training professionals in the audio-visual sector in production, co-production, distribution, and promotion
  • facilitating agreements between distributors/exporters from the EU and distributors/exporters from third countries
  • marketing and circulation of European films in third countries and marketing films from third countries within the EU
  • supporting cinema networks that devote a significant share of programming to European films in third countries.

One important element of the new preparatory action is the principle of 'reciprocity' that does not exist at present. The clause is designed to ensure that cooperation will be for the mutual benefit of the European audiovisual sector and of third countries.

Under the proposed rules, the initiative will allow for cooperation with a grouping that includes partners from at least three of the proposed geographical areas outside of the EU. These are:

  • North America (US and Canada)
  • Central America
  • South America
  • the MEDA area
  • South Asia and South-East Asia
  • North-East Asia
  • the rest of the world.

The call for proposals has been published in the Official Journal of the European Union and the deadline for submissions isJune 13.