Reding's re-upping placed her in public spotlight

On Sept. 24, Viviane Reding, the EU culture and media commissioner since 1999, beamingly held aloft the San Sebastian Festival’s first European Personality of the Year statue.

One month earlier European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso had confirmed Reding’s continuation at the helm of EU film and TV policy as, from November, its information and media commissioner.

Few commissioners carry over into a new commission. Redings’ re-upping throws the public gaze on a commissioner who has rarely sought the limelight.

From Luxembourg, the 53-year-old Reding, a former journalist, has a softly-softly approach. A natty dresser, and bon vivant — a gourmet and wine connoisseur — who knows the EU ropes, she seems an apt appointee from a U.S. perspective. For, going forward, Europeans and Americans seem destined to unite against piracy, a battle that is now being taken seriously in Europe.

Cultural exception, says Reding, is a no-contest. In 2003, the EU reiterated a decision, taken before the 1999 Seattle WTO talks, not to offer to liberalize film and TV for most favored nations like the U.S.

Only a unanimous decision by EU member state ministers could overturn this position. This seems unlikely: For France, the exception of culture from trade talks is sacrosanct.

“There has been a unanimous decision not to liberalize the audiovisual cultural goods. This will not be put on the table at WTO talks,” says Reding.

She speaks in the clear but firm tones of someone who’s hashed through issues time and again. Some sentences ring with lapidary polish.

“I do not like to talk about cultural exception because our culture is not an exception, it is a rule,” she proclaims.

Europe’s creative community cherishes her. “On cultural diversity, audiovisual rights and competition law, she’s always had the creative sector’s interests at heart,” says Pascal Rogard, director general of France’s SACD intellectual rights collection society.

“I appreciate her very much,” says Cannes Film Festival prexy Gilles Jacob. “She’s charming, very determined and gets things done.”

Reding voice warms in turn when she describes signs that an often all-over-the-place EU can work together.

“Five years ago countries’ ministers fought their own corner. Now they come together, make up their minds together and then speak with one voice, and that’s spectacular,” she says in glowing terms.

She has a firm faith in multi-territory training. The EU’s new Media Program, running 2007-13, for which Reding has proposed an ambitious 113% budget hike to e1.055 billion ($1.3 billion), will support not only vocational but also initial training, backing scholarship exchanges between film schools.

“Young filmmakers should get to know each other Europewide and get the idea of collaborating together,” she enthuses.

The Commissioner faces challenges. She has to present a new EU Television Without Frontiers Directive (which requires, as far as possible, that broadcasters air a minimum 51% of European programming) by mid-2005.

One question is whether to extend the directive’s spirit to other media, such as Internet content. And, if so, how. Europe and the U.S. still face battles, such as on digital TV standards, which inevitably facilitate sales of European or U.S. content to operators. Reding could make a formidable antagonist, but a valuable ally.

“She’s courageous, she listens to others but she’s not easily influenced,” says Jacob. Advancing on the new piracy-driven U.S.-EU entente cordiale, MPAA topper Dan Glickman may learn something about Euro culture from Reding, and an odd tip on grand cru wine.

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