The TTIP free-trade talks between the EU and US continue to come under fire from a growing chorus of European film-makers and EU Culture Ministers.

Europe’s film-makers together with colleagues from other cultural sectors have been rallying support foran online petition - - demanding that the negotiations be halted.

¨TTIP undermines freedom,¨ the petition declared. ¨the agreement opens the way for even more monitoring and surveillance of internet users. Excessive copyright regulation restrict free access to culture, education and science.¨

In an interview for ZDF’s arts programme Aspekte, Oscar-winning director Volker Schlöndorff stressed the importance of film funding for the future existence if European cinema : ¨Such globally successful films as The Tin Drum could not have been made without German film funding, and even such an American film as Death of a Salesman, with Dustin Hoffman and John Malkovich, was also partly funded with German subsidy money because it was a co-production.¨

Germany’s new State Minister for Culture and Media Monika Grütters pointed out that she had written to the European Commission to ask it ¨to name the people for the negotiating delegation, who are accompanying the text on culture and cultural affairs at the negotiations so that we know who is representing culture there.¨

As the fifth round of TTIP talks began in Arlington, Virginia, last week, Grütters joined a public discussion at Berlin’s Academy of the Arts on the potential threat to the cultural sector.

¨This is not about wanting to defend some fiscal trifles, this about do or die, about the identity of Germany as a cultural nation,¨ she argued, while the French Ambassador to Germany, Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, explained that it was now understood that the US negotiators were drawing up a paper to ask the European negotiating delegation to define what they mean by ‘culture’ and the ‘audiovisual sector’.

Culture Ministers’ concern

In Brussels, the EU Culture and Audiovisual Ministers to discuss plans for a future Work Plan for Culture as well as to hear from the European Commission about the current state of play in the TTIP talks.

France’s Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti reiterated that audiovisual aervices must continue to be excluded from the free-trade agreement’s negotations and pointed out that 60 proposals in a road map drawn up at last month’s Forum de Chaillot demanded that cultural services be excluded from economic liberalisation and there be ¨fair competition and taxation¨ between the different players, especially by the digital platforms, in order to safeguard the diversity of culture.

During an exchange of views with the ministers on TTIP, Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht ¨firmly stated that he will keep strictly to the mandate he was given and therefore there are no negotiations on the audiovisual sector.¨

However, a European Council press communique revealed that de Gucht also acknowledged that the US has ¨shown interest in a number of areas of EU audiovisual policy.¨

He pointed out that ¨no major progress¨ was to be expected on the talks before the US mid-term elections, but he thought it would best to find an agreement before the end of the year.

In response to criticism from several Member States that the negotiations lack transparency, de Gucht argued that, ¨ in any negotiation, a certain degree of confientiality is necessary¨ and added that restrictions on the access to certain documents were ¨due to the particularly restrictive approach of the US to these issues.¨

Constant update

In the press conference following the Ministers’ session, Greece’s Minister for Audiovisual and Culture Panos Panagiotopoulos stated that the Culture and Audiovisual Ministers had reacted to de Gucht’s briefing by saying that they would like to have ¨a constant update and briefing [on the state of the talks]. It is a major issue for the European Union. We support the exclusion of audiovisual media, but this is not enough - we must be kept informed.¨

Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou, responsible for Education, Youth, Culture and Sport, added that the European Union and the Member States are also committed to safeguarding cultural diversity and cultural heritage on the basis of the European Union Treaty and the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Cultural Diversity.

Less red tape in future for state aid for the European cinema

Meanwhile, elsewhere, on a more positive note, Competition Policy Commissioner Joaquin Almunia announced new measures exempting more areas - including the support of audiovisual works under Europe’s many and varied film funding programmes - from prior notification.

According to Almnia, the new rules ¨will cut red tape for Member States and encourage them to put in place smart aid measures which contribute to economic growth and do not harm fair competition.¨

¨ If Member States make full use of the possibilities for granting aid under the extended exemptions from notification, most aid measures could be immediately implemented, without prior approval from the Commission.¨ he said.

Until now, national and regional film funding programmes or tax incentive initiatives had to submit their guidelines to the European Commission in Brussels for notification before the programme could come onto the statute books and be implemented.