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France will veto EU-US trade talks if culture is included

media Oscar winner MIchel Hazanavicius (C) wants culture exempted Reuters/Phil McCarten

France will veto the opening of negotiations on new trade accords with the United States, if culture and the cultural industries are not excluded from discussion, says Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.

The 27 EU trade ministers will find it difficult to agree when they meet on Friday, to frame instructions for the EU Commissioners who will negotiate in eventual talks with the US on the so-called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

The US believes there should be no exemptions in trade talks but Ayrault told the French parliament on Wednesday “Its [about] our identity”.

Cannes 2013

France has a vibrant, subsidised, cinema scene and is wary of Hollywood’s dominance of the film industry.

Paris frequently takes the lead within the European Union on cultural issues and
Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti says 14 of her EU counterparts have signed a letter she drafted defending this so called “cultural exception” in trade negotiations.

Filippetti is also keen to stir public interest in the question, writing in Le Monde dated Friday 14 June, that the French position stems from a deep-seated conviction that “culture is not just another product”

She says that France has had a policy of encouraging plurality of choice in cinemas for over six decades, declaring it is “what has allowed us to develop a bold, diverse film industry while not neglecting the tastes of ordinary people.” Filippetti worries that a dominant culture will reduce everything to a single “monoculture”.

The French culture minister has enlisted other big names of French cinema to insist that cultural industries be exempt from the TTIP.

Michel Hazanavicius, who won the Best Director Oscar in Hollywood last year for The Artist, starring Jean Dujardin, makes the case in Thursday’s Financial Times.

While Filippetti is reluctant publicly to pick a fight with the European Commission over the issue, Hazanavicius does not hold back, accusing the non-elected Commissioners of being ready to sell out on European culture, in exchange for other trade advantages, judging that
“…the commission,….seems to care very little about Europe’s cultural riches.”

He hopes the EU ministers, who give the Commissioners their negotiating mandate, will agree that culture should be excluded from any trade accords.

This is by no means certain. Many other EU countries are more interested in the boost to growth and jobs that a general trade agreement could generate.

Hazanavicius says its ironic that at the recent Cannes Film Festival, some of Hollywood’s biggest names, including Steven Spielberg and Harvey Weinstein, both publicly expressed their support for a European Cultural exception “praising its artistic importance and, ultimately its economic value.”

He points out that more and more of Europe’s citizens say they’re feeling distant from the Brussels technocrats who influence their lives, and suggests that the Commissioners should safeguard “the cultural diversity that underpins [the European Union’s] prestige and our identity as Europeans”.

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