Deadline for feedback on Cinema Communication extended as EU plans criticised by almost 70 European film funds.

The European film industry has been given an additional four weeks – until June 28 - to submit its views about the European Commission’s proposed Cinema Communication on state support measures for the film industry.

After announcing on April 30 that there would be a third and final public consultation on the draft Communication, competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia had originally set a deadline of May 28 for comments to be submitted.

But the film industry was occupied with the Cannes Film Festival throughout May, where European film-makers mobilised forces to lobby for the retention of the cultural exception in the forthcoming EU-US free trade talks.

“Major concern”

Even before the deadline’s extension, the Cinema Communication had become a subject of “major concern” for European film funders.

In a statement prepared after the meeting of the European Film Agency Directors (EFADs) in Cannes where the future EU member state Croatia was welcomed as the 28th member, the national film agencies had declared that “as it stands, this draft proposal largely does away with the territorialisation that is in fact still at the heart of many European, national and regional aid schemes.”

They argued that it was imperative for the EC to return to a proposal “that allows aid to be linked to activities which are the subject of revenues that may be be imposed on their territory or to activities carried out by operators – national or European – who are based in their territory.”

Moreover, the Cine-Regio network, representing 40 regional film funds from 16 European countries, argued that “the draft actually threatens what it says it supports”.

A communique issued after its general assembly suggested that this latest draft “makes it difficult for regional agencies to justify the use of taxpayer’s money to support cultural output because it would take away the right to ensure that aid granted to production companies is used to develop and nurture the audiovisual sector in the region granting the aid.”

Cultural exception under attack

At the same time, Éric Garandeau, President of France’s CNC, pointed out that the debate about the Cinema Communication should be seen within the context of the growing protests about the inclusion of audiovisual services in the forthcoming talk on the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP).

“We need to resist the onslaught against the cultural exception as a whole, but it is just as important to resist the specific assaults made on each concrete representation of this exception,” he explained, “such as the issues of author’s rights, media chronology, government aids, taxes that sustain the support account, and reduced VAT on cinemas and audio-visual services.”

“Without the cultural exception, there would be no CNC and there would be no Festival de Cannes. Neither would there be arthouse cinemas, independent local bookshops, 600 new films per year or so many newspapers or books to read,” Garandeau had said in a discussion during the Cannes Film Festival.

He also observed that “at the very least, the European Commission has succeeded in creating this feeling of Community-wide solidarity, even though our energies will paradoxically enough be directed against the European Commission, or at least against some of its services…”

For its part, Cine-Regio noted that, for Europe’s regional film funds, “this change threatens not just our commitment to film but to the wider development of a dynamic, forward-thinking and audience-centred audiovisual sector. The Commission’s move will put the interests of US-based globalised multi-nationals before those of a culturally-diverse Europe and of European citizens.”

But Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht is not wavering from the line that there should be any sector excluded from the TTIP negotiations despite the growing chorus of protest from around Europe.

Speaking at the Foundation for Social Studies and Analysis in Madrid at the weekend, he responded to claims that the European Commission was planning to sell out Europe’s cultural diversity in order to get a deal from the Americans by declaring that “nothing could be further from the truth.”

“All we want Member States to consider, in fact, is whether they really need the possibility of excluding 100% of foreign audio-visual productions, particularly in the name of cultural diversity!,” he said, and added that “taking a whole sector off the table would run counter to Europe’s interest in obtaining a broad and comprehensive agreement.”

While France’s Minister for Culture and Communications Aurélie Filippetti and Minister for Trade Nicole Bricq are both singing from the same hymn sheet on their championing of the cultural exception, the same cannot be said, for example, for their German neighbour.

Although State Minister for Culture & Media Bernd Neumann signed Filipetti’s open letter to the Irish Presidency last month, his ministerial colleague, Philip Rösler, Vice-Chancellor and Minister for Economics and Technology, made his position very clear during a recent visit to the US for political talks.

In a speech to the Brookings Institution think-tank, Rösler said that he had told Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs Michael Froman at a meeting in the White House that Germany does not want to exclude any sectors.

Froman is the designated US chief negotiator for the free-trade talks with the European Commission, which might begin from the middle of this month when President Obama visits Berlin after the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland.

“It is quite obvious that you can discuss every single sector, and that you should do that, but I think we should not preclude these things before even starting negotiations, “Rösler explained. “Because once you start excluding one sector, then you can be dead certain that the next person will come and say, ‘Oh, we want to exclude this sector’,”

“So we need a comprehensive approach. That’s what the position of the U.S. is, and that is also what our position will be. And it’s also the position of the EU commissioner in charge of negotiating the agreement,” he concluded.

In addition, it is believed that German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be supporting Rösler in keeping audiovisual services in the TTIP talks.