Trade ministers’ decision to exclude audiovisual services from EU-US free trade agreement has provoked a mixed reaction from European film-makers and politicians.
In a communique issued just hours after the announcement of the agreement on the negotiating mandate, Éric Garandeau, president of France’s CNC, said that the decision was “a historic victory for France, for Europe, for the world”.
He added: “This historic victory has to be credited to the French Government, with the personal involvement of the President of the Republic and of the Prime Minister, and the constant commitment of two Ministers, Nicole Bricq and Aurélie Filippetti.
“But it is also the victory of filmmakers, musicians, and all people working in the cinema industry, the victory of all local and national film agencies in Europe united in the EFAD network, not forgetting the massive resolution of the European Parliament.
“All of us have created a genuine holy alliance.”
The European Film Agency Directors (EFADs) network described the ministers’ decision as “well founded” and expressed the hope “that the Member States and the EU Commission from now on can concentrate their effort on the major challenges for the audiovisual sector that follows in the wake of the digital development.”
Film-makers remain vigilant
Belgian directors Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne expressed their thanks to the Belgian and Romanian governments in supporting the cultural exception, adding: “The battle continues, but today is the day to taste the victory of our fights and our beliefs.”
The brothers also put their names to a communiqué of cinéastes who had been the first signatories of the petition in support of the cultural exception including Bertrand Tavernier, Costa-Gavras, Michel Hazanavicius,and Bérénice Bejo.
The film-makers thanked, in particular, the European Parliament for its support as well as those Member States who had backed the campaign to preserve cultural diversity in Europe, and promised to remain vigilant during the forthcoming free-trade talks.
De Gucht unsettles French
However, French jubilation about the result from last Friday evening was slightly tempered by EC Commissioner Karl de Gucht’s comments about the mandate over the weekend and the impression that the exclusion of audiovisual services was only a provisional one.
In the 45-minute programme Internationales for TV5Monde, Radio France International and Le Monde, de Gucht maintained that he could still come back to audiovisual services during the negotiations with the US if they wished to do.
“I don’t think it is wise, intelligent or practical to not speak about [audiovisual] with our negotiating partners,” de Gucht suggested.
But the European Coalitions For Cultural Diversity reacted with shock and “strongly” encouraged the Commissioner “to fully respect the mandate that the Member States, which have complete democratic legitimacy, have given him and which formally exclude audiovisual matters from the mandate.”
“Should he wish to still discuss this, he will have to come back again in front of the European Council of ministers to obtain their authorization. Which is precisely what they denied him on June 14,” the lobby group argued.
Barroso in deep water
Moreover, EC President José Manuel Barroso attracted the ire of the Coalitions with comments he made in an interview for the Monday edition of the International Herald Tribune.
He attacked those people who “say they belong to the left, but in fact they are culturally extremely reactionary” and said that those who were fearful of a US cultural invasion of Europe had “an anti-cultural agenda.”
At the daily midday press conference in Brussels, spokesman Oliver Bailly explained that Barroso was not referring to the French government who had spearheaded the campaign to retain the cultural exception.
The target of his criticism was rather the people who had hurled personal insults in his direction in the run-up to the Friday decision.
Exclusion a liability?
Meanwhile, Joachim Pfeiffer, Spokesman for Economic Affairs of the CDU/CSU parliamentary parties in the German Bundestag, said it was “regrettable” that the France’s demand for an exclusion of culture and media had been acted upon.
“One can only hope that this won’t be all too great a liability right at the beginning of the negotiations with the USA. After all, the high European standards can also be protected without excluding whole areas from the outset. Now it is imperative to use this chance. After all, Europe and the USA not only represent a transatlantic economic community, but also a community of values,” Pfeiffer said.
Spain and UK join forces
In a statement jointly issued before the meeting and final decision in Luxembourg last Friday, Spain’s Secretary for State for Trade, Jaime Garcia-Legaz, and the UK’s Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable, looked ahead to the beginning of the free-trade talks which were announced at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland on Monday afternoon (June 17).
“We assume these are going to be difficult negotiations, “Garcia-Legaz and Cable said. “Particular sensitivities will arise as soon as the European Commission and the US authorities start negotiations. Both sides may fear the other is more competitive in certain areas while specific interests will demand protection for their own niche areas.”
“But that fear should not prevent us from talking about all relevant issues and sectors; even those most sensitive to us. For the greater good, we will need to push our particular interests to the background. It is at times of change when we need to show our strong commitment to move ahead.”
President Barack Obama echoed these sentiments during the G8 summit press conference on trade today (Monday) and added: “If we can look beyond the narrow concerns to stay focused on the big picture, the economic and strategic importance of this partnership, I am hopeful that we can achieve the kind of the high standard of comprehensive agreement that the global trading system is looking to us to develop.”
In a statement from the White House, the Press Secretary revealed that the first round of the TTIP negotiations will take place in the week beginning July 8 in Washington, D.C., under the leadership of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.