EU’s green paper spurs debate

European and U.S. entertainment industry reps began an early round of sparring Friday in anticipation of the European Commission’s controversial Green Paper on audiovisual policy.

Speaking at a debate in Brussels entitled “Building Transatlantic Bridges,” industry reps and EC officials made clear how much work still has to be done.

The main disagreements were on the future of European-U.S. trade and cooperation in the audiovisual sector, with each side claiming it faced discrimination in the other’s market.

Colette Fleisch, a top official at DGX, the EU directorate for information, communication and culture, looked forward to a period of cooperation with the U.S. after the conclusion of talks on the General Agreement on Tariffs & Trade, but warned U.S. negotiators to get their own house in order before slamming the EU for protectionist practices.

“It has been noted by others that the U.S. audiovisual market is perhaps less open than Americans would have us believe. Current U.S. laws often make it hard for European directors to work there, and U.S. legislation enacted in the 1920s and 1930s (puts up additional) obstacles to Europeans,” she said.

U.S. practices came under further criticism from Alain Modot, president of the European Independent Producers. He contended it was impossible to do genuine co-productions with American networks so long as the European companies are weak. “Some American programs are laundered to give them a European element, but in practice Americans tend to say, ‘Give me your money and we’ll make the film.’ ”

Ivan Hodac, vice president of Time Warner Europe, countered that European incentive schemes and quota systems, set out in the EU’s 1989 Television Without Frontiers directive, discriminated against U.S. companies that want to do co-productions in Europe.

The EU’s Green Paper on audiovisual policy, the release of which has been delayed until April, is believed to give strong support to subsidies and quotas as a means of strengthening the industry in Europe.

Fleisch confirmed U.S. concerns that the EU hopes to support its audiovisual industry by protectionism of one form or other for the foreseeable future.

“I am not pleading for protectionist measures. What I am asking for is breathing space for the European audiovisual sector to restructure itself and create the foundations of a competitive industry,” she said.

Other EU officials at the conference have been clearer about some of the measures they would like to see put in place. Roberto Barzanti, vice president of the European Parliament, disturbed Americans at the conference, and more than a few members of the European Commission, when he called for an EU directive introducing quotas for cinema.

Hodac strongly opposed any plan for a cinema directive.

Protectionist measures, he argued, would eventually help keep U.S. programs out of Europe, but they would do nothing to help Europeans develop a competitive product of their own. “It’s a ridiculous idea. If my wife watches ‘Jurassic Park’ in the morning, does that mean I will watch ‘Germinal’ in the evening?” he asked.

Bartering will begin in earnest on these issues once the EU’s Green Paper is published.

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