European cultural diversity is more vital than trade harmony
EU trade negotions with US must respect the European motto: ‘united in diversity’
“Is culture a commodity or just a merchandise like any other? Do we wish to maintain the production of films in a language other than English?” Audrey Tautou in a scene from French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s film ‘Amelie’. Photograph: AP Photo/Bruno Calvo/Miramax Zoe HO
At the Council of the European Union on June 14th last, an agreement was reached, at the request of France, that the audiovisual and film sectors be expressly excluded from the scope of the negotiating mandate of the trade agreement between the EU and the United States, called the “Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership”.
What, in concrete terms, is this about?
While the US had not made any such request, the European Commission decided to slip in what the Europeans have called “the cultural exception”, which seeks to preserve diversity in cultural expression, to the list of subjects that may be negotiated in this transatlantic agreement.
Tyranny of English language
Is culture a commodity or just a merchandise like any other? Do we wish to maintain the production of films in a language other than English? The French answer is clear: by saying Yes to the cultural exception, the union defends the production and distribution of European works by protecting their creative and linguistic diversity.
In this regard, it is necessary to recall the principle of technological neutrality, whereby the nature of the medium does not alter the content of the work. The film and audiovisual sectors should be excluded from the negotiating mandate, regardless of the type of media. If we want to defend European creation, the digital environment in which we live should not allow for a hidden liberalisation of such a vital sector.
France has managed to convince other member states of the necessity not to include European cinema, already weakened by the power of the American entertainment industry.
After this European victory, which needs to be welcomed, we should not relax our vigilance. Soon after the council, José Manuel Barroso was quick to criticise both the French position and the content of the agreement, suggesting that it might still be possible, during the course of negotiations, to bring these sectors back on the table again.
Yet, the democratic intent of the union had been absolutely unambiguous. Indeed, the European Parliament had come out with an overwhelming majority of 381 votes against 191 to request the exclusion of the audiovisual and film industries from the free trade agreement.
The French National Assembly, in plenary session on June 12th last, voted unanimously for the exclusion of these sectors on the basis of the proposal for a European resolution. And the Länder and federated parliaments in Belgium had also adopted a similar resolution.
At the end of the day, it will be down to the European Parliament to approve the deal or not, once it has been negotiated by the European Commission.
I do hope that Ireland, which knows how vital cultural and language diversity really is, will also be vigilant on the consequences of this negotiation. We will need to ensure that the European Commission does not overstretch its mandate.
United in diversity
I do not wish to fuel the controversy launched by Barroso on French cinema, which over the years has continued to demonstrate its creativity and whose value is recognised, even in Hollywood. In Dublin with my colleagues of the national parliaments of the union, I would rather recall our European motto, “United in diversity”.
United in diversity, we also have the duty to be united in the current difficulties, at economic, social and environmental levels, to put forward, together, concrete solutions to allow our fellow citizens to live better.
Unregulated free trade, commoditisation of culture and full-throttle austerity cannot and should not constitute a policy likely to meet the challenges we face.
So, rather than squander the wealth of our diversity and target the most vulnerable in our society, let us invest in the future, the energy transition of our economies and in youth employment. Thus, and only thus, will the European Union be in a position to restore the confidence of its citizens.
Danielle Auroi is a French deputy of the European Green Party, chairwoman of the European Affairs Committee of the French National Assembly, and head of delegation for the Conference of the Community and European Affairs Committees