Jacques Toubon,head of the Eurimages production aid scheme, thisweek told Screendaily.com that mergerwith the Media programme may become "inevitable".

The former French culture minister said that such a move could be a consequence ofthe imminent enlargement of the European Union (EU).

"Soon the MEDIAProgramme and Eurimages' membership will overlap, with the consequence that itwill no longer make sense to keep two separate institutional frameworks: theEuropean Union for the MEDIA Programme and Eurimagesfor the Council of Europe," he commented. "It is therefore naturalthat the two initiatives will merge in the future."

Eurimages, which is chiefly concerned with aidingmulti-national co-productions within Europe, currentlyhas 30 members. Of the ten new states from southern and eastern Europe due toswell the EU's numbers from 15 states to 25,several are already part of the Media Plus programme and seven are members of Eurimages.

The idea of merger hasattractions for some, in that it would unite Europe's production aid system (Eurimages) with thecurrently separate initiatives concerning development, distribution, exhibitionand training. But it is bound to be controversial and difficult to achieve.

First the two programmeshave different backers. The 16-year-old Eurimages ispart of the much larger Council of Europe organisation which concerns itselfwith a wide range of cultural matters. The MEDIA programme, now in its thirdguise as Media Plus and due to expire in 2006, is run from the education andculture directorate general, part of the EU'sEuropean Commission.

Second, their operationshave different functions. The EU has traditionally avoided involving itselfwith production subsidy as this it believes is a matter best left for nationalbodies. This was an approach re-endorsed last month when the EuropeanCommission decided to leave untouched the framework under which nationalschemes are allowed to operate.

This could raise furtherculture clashes. As one analyst explained that the decisions taken in Eurimages, which has supported over 900 Europeanco-productions in its 15 year history, are reached "in a much more openand democratic way than in the Media Programme, where things are ratheropaque." The UK opted out of Eurimages six years ago,believing it to be unnecessary and that cash saved from its annual contributionwould be better spent supporting its own productions.

Toubon declined to provide a time frame for the merger."Of course it is now premature to say when and how: this is an issue forthe European Ministers of Culture to decide," he stated. But an obvioustimetable would be 2006, when the Media programme will either be allowed toexpire or be renewed. Most commentators expect it to be renewed but that ashake-up of its functions to be likely.

(Additionalreporting by Patrick Frater.)