France uncompromising on cultural exception

Transatlantic partnership/cultural exception – Joint communiqué issued by the Ministers of Foreign Trade and Culture

Paris, 12 June 2013

Nicole Bricq, Minister of Foreign Trade, and Aurélie Filippetti, Minister of Culture, welcome the National Assembly’s unanimous adoption today of a European resolution presented by the deputies Patrick Bloche, President of the Culture and Education Committee, and Danielle Auroi, President of the European Affairs Committee of the National Assembly.

The resolution demands respect for the cultural exception and the exclusion of audiovisual services from the negotiation mandate of the partnership agreement between the United States and the European Union at the Foreign Affairs Council (Trade) which will be discussed on 14 June.

The two ministers recalled that France does not intend to compromise on this issue.

The cultural exception is a key element in the European political project.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault emphasized to the nation’s elected representatives that, if France is not heeded by the European Commission, she will use her “right of political veto” to reject any mandate that does not respect the cultural exception.

Through this resolution, the National Assembly is adding its voice to those of the Senate and the European Parliament in supporting the government in its determination to demand respect for the cultural exception and the exclusion of audiovisual services from the negotiation mandate of the future transatlantic partnership./.

Transatlantic partnership/cultural exception – Reply by M. Jean-Marc Ayrault, Prime Minister, to a question in the National Assembly (excerpts)

Paris, 12 June 2013

On Friday, the agenda of the Foreign Affairs Council (Trade) will include the mandate given to the European Commission to embark on negotiations with the United States with a view to a free trade agreement.

France is clearly in favour of international trade and economic exchanges, provided rules are clearly stated.

There have already been other free trade agreements with other countries which have brought positive results for growth and employment, provided those agreements are negotiated on the basis of a principle to which France is strongly committed: fair exchange.

In this initial discussion between France and the United States, several points must be resolved. France was not alone in stating, for example, that national defence-related trade must be excluded. On this point, we obtained a first positive result.

Regarding agriculture, too, we succeeded in changing the European Commission’s stance in order to prepare the negotiation mandate. This is the case with the rejection of GMOs, animal cloning, beef hormones and many other points I won’t set out in detail here.

A crucial issue remains, which you recalled: that of France’s constant support for the cultural exception and for defending the cultural industries. France has always believed this essential issue must be excluded – as is already the case in our relations with Canada and Japan –, and what is possible with other countries must also be so for the United States.

We’re fighting, and we’ll always fight to defend cultural diversity.

In this fight, we’re not alone. The President, Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti, Foreign Trade Minister Nicole Bricq, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Minister Delegate for European Affairs Thierry Repentin have constantly intensified contacts to secure this exclusion from the negotiation.

Fourteen European culture ministers have even signed an appeal on this point. As you recalled, the European Parliament made a statement to the same effect.

The question is simple. What mandate will Mme Nicole Bricq – who will be representing France at the European Council on Friday – have from the government? That mandate is clear, and France will oppose the opening of negotiations if the cultural industries are not protected – that is, excluded from the negotiations. France will go as far as to use her right of political veto.

It’s our identity; it’s our battle. We’re not alone, but spearheading it, with Parliament’s support./.

Transatlantic partnership/cultural exception – Interview given by Mme Nicole Bricq, Minister of Foreign Trade, to the daily newspaper Libération

Paris, 12 June 2013

Q. – Will the support rallied by Europe for the cultural exception lead to a French veto?

THE MINISTER – France won’t give the Commission a mandate if it persists in putting culture and audiovisual services in the field of negotiation. I believe the Commission is making a tactical error. It claims that it’s better to put everything on the table and negotiate later. But in any case, the United States will come with her exceptions, particularly on maritime transport and financial services, where she’s defending the independence of her regulatory agencies.

I think that if culture isn’t excluded from the outset, there’s a risk of cultural services becoming the Commission’s hostages, a sort of bargaining chip. For me, the cultural exception is non-negotiable. And when the Commission tells me, “You’ll have your European film distribution quotas”, I don’t believe it. And it makes no more sense, as the Commission once envisaged, to swap the cultural exception for protected geographical indications, as with Grenoble walnuts and Agen prunes.

Q. – On the cultural exception issue, are the other European countries following you?

THE MINISTER – All the countries have expressed their agreement on the principle, even though many are hesitating to oppose the Commission. In the vote the European Parliament has just passed authorizing the latter to negotiate, cultural services were removed from the field of negotiations. Admittedly, this is only an advisory opinion. But there’s a powerful climate of defiance against the European executive, and the Commission should hesitate before disregarding the will of citizens.

Q. – Could the Commission force this through, despite France’s refusal?

THE MINISTER – Yes, the risk exists. It disregarded Germany’s refusal and temporarily imposed anti-dumping measures on Chinese solar panels.

Q. – Isn’t the cultural exception a red rag we’re waving to distract from the risks of negotiation?

THE MINISTER – The “transatlantic partnership” can’t be reduced to a free trade agreement. This agreement will concern 40% of global trade and set the standards for international trade. And French companies know how much they’d benefit from more open American procurement contracts – currently closed to more than 70% – and from regulatory convergence and the creation of common standards. We have offensive interests, particularly in textiles, clothing, dairy products and pharmaceutical products. The Commission believes this agreement would enable us to increase European citizens’ spending power by more than €500 by 2025. Personally, I don’t set much store by these long-term predictions.

Q. – But can we really guarantee that “European collective preferences” on ethics, work, health and environmental and food security will be respected, as French MPs have demanded?

THE MINISTER – There will be red lines. For instance, we don’t want GMOs. Or American beef hormones. On these points, the whole of Europe is on the same wavelength. Nor do we agree on their carcass decontamination methods. There’s a real issue around geographical indications (GIs). It’s also a challenge in the discussions. It’s not about allowing the Americans to call their sparkling wines “champagne”. With the Britons’ and Swedes’ help, we’ve managed to get the defence market excluded from the negotiation, because we have no chance of selling our materiel to the Pentagon.

Q. – How can one negotiate with a country which for its public contracts, and sometimes its private contracts as in telecoms, brandishes its Buy American Act?

THE MINISTER – Indeed, we don’t have the equivalent in Europe to protect our manufacturers. Rather than drawing up our own, I suggest we work on a “Buy Transatlantic Act”. This means European companies could gain access to these protected American markets and vice versa.

Q. – And are we going to give in to the Commission, which is upholding the possibility of companies using the arbitration mechanism to turn against states?

THE MINISTER – It’s a very dangerous mechanism, given the power of the American lobbyists. There are going to be constant disputes. We can see this with the free trade agreement between Canada, Mexico and the United States. We propose sticking to a mechanism for settling disputes between states, of the kind which exists at the WTO. Germany, like us, is hostile to this extension of the mechanism; it would enable private interests to bypass national courts and ultimately block states’ ability to legislate. But for the time being we’ve secured only much stricter regulation.

Q. – The scandal about the large-scale hacking carried out by the Americans isn’t conducive to opening the trade floodgates, either…

THE MINISTER – Trade relating to personal data isn’t in the field of negotiation. But if negotiation with the United States begins, the risk exists that the Americans will take advantage of it to control the issue and obtain an easing of European rules on the protection of personal data. And there’s no question of that, either./.

Published on 14/06/2013

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