Brexit: Barnier warns UK against questioning deal stance
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The UK is Europe’s biggest producer of film and TV content and, according to an internal EU document, its dominance could be a threat to Europe’s “cultural diversity” after Brexit. Under the EU’s audiovisual media services directive, the majority of airtime must be given to European content on terrestrial TV. It must also make up 30 percent of the number of titles on platforms such as Netflix and Amazon.
Other countries have increased their quotas for European works on video-on-demand platforms.
However, the document, tabled with diplomats on June 8, said in the “aftermath of Brexit” the inclusion of UK content in such quotas had led to a “disproportionate” amount of British content on EU TV.
Adam Minns, the executive director of the Commercial Broadcasters Association (COBA), said: “Selling the international intellectual property rights to British programmes has become a crucial part of financing production in certain genres, such as drama.
“Losing access to a substantial part of EU markets would be a serious blow for the UK TV sector, right across the value chain from producers to broadcasters to creatives.”
Responding to the threat, Lord David Frost said: “We’re in favour of free circulation of audiovisual goods as of other goods.
“If the EU chooses to harm themselves and their viewers by excluding some categories of UK content we can’t stop them, but I’m sure good sense will prevail and we won’t be in that position.”
He said the move is largely a “traditional position” of the French when it comes to audiovisual arrangements.
In an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk, Italian MEP Antonio Maria Rinaldi compared this EU stance to the dystopian politics of George Orwell’s ‘1984’.
He said: “They are crazy.
“The EU thinks that European citizens are idiots.
“If member states started producing TV programmes that were on the same level, I’m sure more people would be watching them.
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“But if they are out of business, it’s because the English are obviously better. Simple.”
He added: “When it suits the Commission, the EU appeals to market rules but when it doesn’t, it calls for sovereignty.
“You need to decide, but you can’t have your cake and eat it.
“Well… unless its reference model is that of George Orwell’s 1984, which could very well be.”
Professor Alan Winters, director of the Trade Policy Observatory at the University of Sussex, suggested French President Emmanuel Macron might be the one pushing for the ban.
He told Express.co.uk earlier this year: “Many trade agreements over the last 30 years have had the splits we are seeing now.
“And they had to be settled through internal politics.
“It has almost always been France saying: ‘We don’t like this, we want to veto it.’
“They resolved them in different ways. For example, the swapping of senior jobs was involved.”
But in other cases, Prof Winters noted, the French were so stubborn, such as in 1994 with audiovisuals services, that Brussels had to cave in.
The trade expert added: “The EU never negotiates audiovisual services because the French don’t allow it and the EU has to exclude that.
“Basically, Paris wasn’t prepared to have Hollywood undermine French culture.”
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As Prof Winters explained, France has long been a champion of “cultural exception”, or “cultural diversity”, battling most recently for it to be upheld in the long-mooted, yet-to-be-agreed EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) trade deal, negotiations for which are reportedly on ice.
The country first introduced the concept of cultural exception during the 1993 negotiations around the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which was succeeded by World Trade Organisation rules in 1995.
Under the principle, cultural goods and services are treated differently from other commercial products, giving countries free rein to support and protect their own cultural sector as they see fit, through subsidies, quotas or obligations.
Last year, Mr Macron confirmed France would ensure the European audiovisual sector was excluded from any all-encompassing UK-EU free trade agreement (FTA) post-Brexit.
Mr Macron laid out France’s position in a letter responding to written concerns expressed by the lobby group, the French Coalition for Cultural Diversity.
Mr Macron wrote: “France has always stood by the exclusion of audiovisual services from free trade agreements. It’s a key issue, for the protection of cultural diversity, on which the Council [of Europe] is unanimous.
“Our country has made this a major point in every commercial negotiation and has secured the exclusion of audiovisual services from all the free trade deals concluded by the European Union.”
He said France would demand “an explicit mention” of the exclusion of audiovisual services in any directives adopted by the EU Commission within the framework of a future FTA between the EU and UK.
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