European Trade Ministers agreed on Friday evening (June 14) in Luxembourg to a negotiating mandate for the forthcoming EU-US free-trade talks which excludes audiovisual services.

During the many hours of discussions, Nicole Bricq, France’s Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, had kept to her line that she would “refuse any mandate that doesn’t include protection of cultural services and the clear and explicit exclusion of the audiovisual sector.”

Moreover, one highly-placed French official was quoted during the trade ministers’ meeting as saying: “It is not black, it is not white. There is nothing to negotiate.”

Speaking at a press conference late on Friday evening,  Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht first pointed out that “at least 98% of the mandate has been accepted without further discussion“ and that most of the day’s discussion had been dominated by the remaining 2% concerning audiovisual services.

However, he stressed that the compromise found on audiovisual services did not amount to a carve-out of this sector: “We will come back to the matter on the basis of what is happening or discussed during the negotiations. I’m going to listen to what the American friends have to tell us on this, what is their vision on this, and then if we judge it appropriate we will come forward to the Council with an additional demand for a mandate.“

“What is really at stake in these negotiations on audiovisual is the so-called digital evolution or revolution in those media,“ De Gucht said. “There is no European legislation on this at this moment in time, [while] there is legislation on online and video-on-demand.“

“The European Commission has recently invited all interested parties to comment on a Green Paper on this issue [of digital media]. Hence, we do not want to treat it now, but come back to the matter at a later stage.“

Following the EU Trade Ministers’ decision, the European Commission now has the green light from Member States and is ready to start the negotiations as soon as the US administration is ready.

In practical terms, this means the launch of formal negotiations will probably take place before the summer. 

Changes to film legislation in Germany and Lithuania

This week also saw changes to film legislation in Germany and Lithuania with the Bundestag’s passing of a revised German Film Law (FFG) for a three-year period from 1 January 2014, and the Lithuanian Parliament adopting amendments of the country’s corporate income tax law to introduce a film tax incentive scheme.

All of the political parties represented in the Bundestag – except for Die Linke who abstained – voted for revisions to the German Film Law (FFG) which is now extended for another three years until the end of 2013.

Described by the ruling conservative parties as “a quantum leap for the German cinema“, the revised FFG includes new regulations extending the obligation to make financial contributions for the German Federal Film Board (FFA) to cover VoD services based outside of Germany, more flexibility in release windows, measures to oblige producers to provide films with subtitles for heard of hearing and audio-description for the visually impaired, and responsibilities for digitisation of audiovisual heritage.

In addition, a motion to intensify the support of German children’s films and encourage the development of original story ideas rather then rely on existing properties was given the greenlight by all of the parties, with only Die Linke voting against.

Lithuania joins incentives club

Lithuania’s tax incentives scheme, which begins on January 1, 2014 and will run until December 31, 2018, will provide “favourable conditions“ for investment by business companies in film production and will benefit foreign and local producers in Lithuania.“

“The new tax incentives scheme is an opportunity for the profitable companies to support film production and reduce their corporate income tax at the same time,” Rolandas Kvietkauskas, the head of the Lithuanian Film Centre, explained.

“This scheme will become an additional source of financing to the existing State aid mechanism and revenues out of value added taxes for the film distribution and exhibition in the film theatres.”

Producers will be able to benefit from the new scheme as long as at least 80% of all the expenses for the film or its part production are incurred in the Republic of Lithuania and the expenses incurred here are at least €43,443.