Europe

Culture fears over planned EU-US trade deal

Stars of French hit movie The Artist
Image caption The French silent movie The Artist was a huge global hit in 2011

European cinema and other arts will not be undermined by an EU free trade deal with the US, the European Commission has said, responding to French concern.

Wide-ranging EU-US trade negotiations are expected to be launched later this year. The aim is to clinch a major free trade deal before October 2014.

The Commission says the audiovisual sector will be included in the talks. That goes against the wishes of France and dozens of European film directors.

France has quotas for non-French arts.

It also has an extensive state subsidy system to keep French films and television thriving and protect them from US cultural imports.

Last week French Foreign Trade Minister Nicole Bricq threatened to scupper any EU-US free trade deal if it included the audiovisual sector.

And many famous European film directors and US director David Lynch have launched an internet petition to the Commission, urging the EU to exclude the audiovisual sector from the talks.

Among the famous signatories are Austria's Michael Haneke, French directors Michel Hazanavicius, Catherine Breillat, Costa Gavras and Agnes Jaoui, Spain's Pedro Almodovar, UK directors Mike Leigh and Ken Loach, Belgians Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne and Finland's Aki Kaurismaki.

'No harm'

The petition, on the website lapetition.be, is called "the cultural exception is non-negotiable!"

The directors say Europe's cultural diversity must be protected, warning that "the proposed negotiation mandate is a renunciation - it is a capitulation and a breaking-point".

But in a statement on Monday the EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said: "Europe will not put its cultural exception at risk through trade negotiations.

"Nothing in the free trade agreement with the United States will harm - or even have the potential to harm - Europe's cultural diversity."

He said EU member states would be free to maintain state support for their audiovisual industries and "France in particular remains perfectly free to maintain its subsidy schemes and quotas".

But Ms Bricq, quoted by the AFP news agency, called the Commission's position on the negotiations "ambiguous".

She is due to meet US Congress politicians and an adviser to President Barack Obama in Washington on Tuesday to find out US priorities in the trade negotiations. She said the US appeared "more concerned about internet piracy than about cultural exceptionalism".

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