COLOGNE, Germany – European filmmakers opposed to the film and television industries being included in upcoming free-trade talks between the European Union and the United States have declared victory after EU trade ministers announced culture will not be on the negotiating table, at least for now.
“A wonderful victory for European Culture,” wrote two-time Palme d'Or winners, Belgian directors Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne in a release following the announcement, which came after closed door talks on Friday night. The Dardenne brothers are at the forefront of a group of European filmmakers, which also includes such acclaimed auteurs as Wim Wenders, Ken Loach, Stephen Frears and Pablo Almodovar, who have demanded Europe's cultural industry remain protected from direct competition with Hollywood.
The protectionist camp is strongest in France, where strict quotas dictate at least 60 percent of all films broadcast on French TV in primetime be of European origin and 40 percent be French.
France had threatened to torpedo the upcoming trade talks if culture was not taken off the negotiating table. Other countries, particularly Britain, have welcomed more open competition in the cultural sphere.
After more than 12 hours of closed-door meetings on Friday, the EU eventually agreed, saying the arts industry will not be part of initial trade negotiations, expected to begin at next week's G8 summit in London. But EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht left the door open, saying he would discuss the matter further with American negotiators. De Gucht has expressed fears that excluding culture from the wide-ranging trade talks could lead to a tit-for-tat approach, with the U.S. adding protectionist measures of its own.
A new free-trade deal between the EU and the U.S. would be huge. Together, the two account for around a third of global trade and around half of global economic output. Forecasts estimate the deal, called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) could boost the stagnant European economy by some $160 billion per year and add close to $130 billion annually to the U.S. economy.
The cultural industries are only a tiny part of that. America's trade surplus with Europe in that area (music, film, radio and TV) averaged $2 billion a year between 2004-2011.