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EU REIGN’S IN SPAIN

As president of the European Union since July 1, Spain is set to steer a far different course from its predecessor France in orchestrating media policies.

French tenacity – some would say intransigence – is likely to yield to a far greater pragmatism.

While France set out to strengthen European TV quotas, the Spanish government is being far more cautious about the possibilities of any definitive decision on the issue during its six-month mandate.

And no Spanish minister is likely to lead a new offensive against U.S. “cultural imperialism,” as did Jack Lang, France’s flamboyant former minister for culture.

New approach

Spain will try a different tack, says Enrique Balmaseda, head of the Spanish ICAA film subsidy board. “So far the debate on quotas has to a large extent been ideological… We’ve got to sit down and analyze the impact of quotas in depth and see if there are any alternatives.”

One, said Balmaseda, could be to oblige broadcasters in Europe to invest part of their revenues into the production of European TV programming.

The Council of Ministers from EU countries could make a definitive decision about TV quotas at a meeting in November. According to Balmaseda, the same summit also could approve the broad lines of a mechanisms designed to tap ECU800-1,000 ($1 billion-$1.3 billion) in private sector finance for Europe’s film and TV sector.

But Spain is not particularly worried about forcing through either measure. “We’d rather they were approved under another country’s presidency than rush through legislation which is faulty,” Balmaseda said.

Spain’s softer approach to audiovisual policy has to do with its far humbler national role as a middleman of Europe. “Spain’s advantage is that it’s a medium-sized country in western Europe. That helps in achieving a consensus in Europe,” says Balmaseda.

Balmaseda’s boss, Spanish culture Minister Carmen Alborch, has won a reputation as a peacemaker, calming the waters after bitter disputes broke out last year between the Spanish production and exhibition sectors.

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