PARIS — Striking French showbiz workers appeared hell-bent on smashing French culture last week, but another surprise ally rallied to its aid — the European Union.
The EU isn’t always individualistic France’s friend.
But while strike action derailed the Avignon Festival and other arts events throughout the country, a commission drafting the constitution of a new, extended European Union chose to reinstate the “unanimity rule” on Euro votes to do with culture.
Rule, which enables France to veto any Euro attempts to deregulate the cinema, TV or other cultural industries, had been traded in for a qualified majority vote in a draft two months ago.
Ironically, a Frenchman, European Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, had championed a change in the voting procedure.
But extensive lobbying by Paris, bolstered by threats that the French might not approve the new constitution, eventually won the day. The draft was amended back last week.
“It was a hard fought victory,” said Pascal Rogard, director of the powerful French cinema lobby ARP, which represents key helmer hyphenates.
The decision to keep the unanimity rule, which is expected to be rubber stamped along with the rest of the draft constitution by European heads of state in the fall, will be key in shoring up France’s position on cultural subsidies during ongoing World Trade negotiations.
Meanwhile the European Commission has also given France a break over deregulating TV advertising, following some French concessions.
The EC had ordered France to lift a ban on commercials for books, newspapers, mass retailers and movies — four sectors banned by the French on the grounds that if TV advertising were allowed, market leaders could buy their way to an even bigger market share, squeezing out their smaller rivals.
France has made strides to relax the ban on three sectors, but not movies.
Explaining the EC’s decision to quietly drop the matter, for now, a Brussels insider told Daily Variety: “France has made a big effort. We’ll get back to the issue of advertising for the cinema sector at a later stage.”