Hollade and Barroso clash over trade deal

Row between French PM and Commission President as G8 summit begins

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso speaks at a news conference before the start of a G8 summit in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso speaks at a news conference before the start of a G8 summit in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland

Tue, Jun 18, 2013, 01:00



Arriving in Lough Erne yesterday, President François Hollande said he “did not want to believe” that European Commission president José Manuel Barroso had called France “reactionary”.

The clash between the two leaders, conveyed via media, risked marring the launch of negotiations on EU-US trade on the sidelines of the G8 summit. For weeks, France had threatened to veto the EU mandate for the talks unless the exception culturelle – a system of quotas and subsidies for French-language cinema, television and music production – was preserved.

EU trade ministers reached agreement on the mandate in Luxembourg on Friday, after giving in to the French.

In an interview published by the International Herald Tribune yesterday, Mr Barroso said France’s behaviour had been “part of this anti-globalisation agenda that I consider completely reactionary”.

Mr Barroso said he believed in cultural diversity, but not in sealing off Europe. “Some say they belong to the left, but in fact they are culturally extremely reactionary,” he said.


French indignation
“I don’t want to believe that the president of the European Commission could have used such words about France nor about the artists who expressed themselves,” Mr Hollande told journalists at Lough Erne.

Every French government, left or right, has defended the exception culturelle for decades. In the French imagination, it holds a status comparable to mom and apple pie in America or the corporate tax rate in Ireland.

The cultural exception “is a principle that has always been brought up and each time set aside in trade negotiations” conducted by the EU, Mr Hollande said. “There is no reason why that should change in this discussion with the US. What I ask of President Barroso is to carry out the mandate that was decided by negotiators of the individual governments.”

A commission spokesman suggested Mr Barroso’s remarks referred not to France but to the politicians, actors and directors who had “personally attacked” the commission and its president. The Greek-born French director Costa-Gavras had called Mr Barroso a “dangerous man” for European culture.

The commission was “isolated in its ultra-liberal logic”, French culture minister Aurélie Filippetti said. “Some of us were called reactionaries. Those who call France reactionary should remember that France was not alone in this fight.” Germany, Britain and the commission opposed excluding the film, music and television industries from the trade talks, while Belgium, Greece and Hungary supported Paris.