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Hollywood Stymied as Europe Sticks With Its Limits on Film and TV

ANNECY – The more things change, as they say in France…

Twenty years after France fought a near-lone battle to preserve limitations on American pop culture, Gaul has done it again.

During 13 hours of negotiations at an European Union meeting in Luxembourg on Friday, E.U. trade ministers capitulated to the insistence of French trade minister Nicole Bricq (pictured) that cultural goods should be excluded from the forthcoming U.S.-E.U. trade negotiations.

The  talks are aimed at freeing up commerce between the world’s two biggest trading partners.

The E.U. decided that audiovisual (i.e., films, TV and music) will not be part of the trade agreement talks. This means European countries can still limit imports of American fare. Hollywood doesn’t lose exactly, because these rules have been in place. But Hollywood doesn’t gain, because the studios could have significantly increased their B.O. take if these rules were dropped.

For example, Hollywood movies’ market share runs 80%-90% in Latin America countries, but it dips below 50% in France and is broadly 60%-75% over Western Europe.

These protectionist measures have been essential to the build-up of local film industries and hence local markets over Europe.

France had threatened to use its power of veto to halt these talks before they were due to officially launch at next week’s Group of Eight summit.

Instructed by Francois Hollande to not accept compromise solutions, French trade minister Nicole Bricq also rejected a proposal put forward by Belgian E.U. trade commissioner Karel De Gucht, and backed by many E.U. governments, that would have given France the right to reject any U.S.-E.U. agreement reached during the talks which affected Europe’s culture industries.

France’s goal to exclude cultural goods and preservation of the E.U.’s cultural exception was no shoo-in. It reflects France’s stance that culture and a government’s right to protect that culture is a sacred principle that should not be overridden by free trade or indeed E.U. dictates.

The exclusion follows months of protests by leading figures and trade bodies in the French film industry – “The Artist” star and director Berenice Bejo and Michel Hazanavicius, and recent Oscar winner Michael Haneke, for example – supported by filmmakers outside France in Europe.

Without a cultural exception, trade agreements could limit the ability of E.U. countries to strengthen protectionist measures, or introduce new incentives or quotas in a digital environment.

French film honchos argue it is better for Hollywood to enjoy a smaller share of a larger market. Though under Jack Valenti the MPAA fought a bitter battle in the early ’90s to end Europe’s cultural exception, senior figures in the U.S. film industry came out in its support at last month’s Cannes Festival.

“The most important thing is to preserve the environment of cultural films, because it’s good for business too,” Harvey Weinstein said at a press conference hosted by Gaul’s culture minister Aurelie Filippetti.

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