'Protect us from Hollywood or we will block trade deal'
France still refusing to join EU-US pact unless culture safeguarded
France has continued to insist that it will block an EU free-trade deal with the United States unless its culture is shielded from the might of Hollywood and Silicon Valley.
Paris has refused to join the 26 other EU governments that want talks to start in July, unless TV, films and developing online media are left out of a deal.
Trade between Europe and the US is worth almost $3bn (€2.25bn) a day and an accord could boost both economies by more than $100bn a year each – an attractive prospect when both are emerging from low or zero growth and are keen to create jobs.
But after eight hours of talks among 27 EU trade ministers in Luxembourg, the gap between France and free-trade proponents such as Sweden, Germany and Britain appeared just as wide as when the meeting began.
"We have 26 member states that can agree what is on the table at the moment and one member state who can't. It seems France is rather isolated for the moment," said Swedish trade minister Ewa Bjorling.
Richard Bruton, who was chairing yesterday's meeting, said the latest proposal guaranteed EU members' rights to maintain existing quotas and subsidies and allowed the EU to pass future legislation on internet and digital services.
If EU ministers agree a mandate, European leaders and President Barack Obama plan to use the G8 summit next week to launch talks. One French diplomat said there was no room for manoeuvre. "It's black and white. There's nothing to negotiate," the diplomat said.
The bloc needs French agreement not just because it is Europe's second largest economy but because under EU rules, trade deals touching on cultural issues need unanimous support.
France, widely considered the birthplace of cinema, has a proud tradition of more than a century of publicly and critically acclaimed films and pumps in more public funds to its movie industry than any other EU member.
French trade minister Nicole Bricq told fellow ministers that American films made up a far higher proportion of the movies shown in European cinemas, compared with the number of European ones shown in the US.
"Who is open and who is closed?" Ms Bricq said, according to a copy of her speech circulated by diplomats. She has said the EU audiovisual sector is worth €17bn and provides jobs for a million people.
Free-trade advocates argue it is vital to push ahead with what would be the world's biggest trade agreement, because of the economic benefits it would bring, especially when much of western Europe is in recession.
They also fear excluding an industry from the talks would prompt a similar US opt-out, such as to protect its closed shipping sector, a concern for Denmark and Greece with their large shipping industries.