German Film Bodies Demand Cultural Exception in U.S.-Europe Trade Talks

Volker Schlondorff P

European filmmakers, including Volker Schlondorff, Michael Haneke, and Pedro Almodovar, fear new free-trade negotiations could threaten their local industries.

COLOGNE, Germany – Germany's national and regional film subsidy bodies want to remain exceptional.

The country's film boards, which pump millions into production every year, supporting everything from small local language titles  to international shoots such as George Clooney's The Monuments Men, have called on the government in Berlin to take film funding off the table in upcoming free-trade negotiations between the U.S. and the European Union.

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"With concern we have watched the ongoing negotiations on the free trade agreement between Europe and the USA... We fear German and European cinema is under threat unless the agreement includes an exception for film funding... [Otherwise], German and European films will disappear from cinemas and the dominance of the already strong U.S. content would increase,” Germany's film boards wrote in a joint release. They added they had pointed out their concerns in a letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel in which they demanded that the film industry remain outside the scope of the trade talks.

Europe's filmmakers are up in arms over bilateral discussions, expected to begin later this year, which aim at eliminating trade barriers and increasing commerce between the world's two biggest economies. The debate mirrors the controversy surrounding the last round of negotiations on GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) in 1993. Back then, Europe won an exception for the audiovisual industries, claiming without it, European cinema culture would be overrun by Hollywood.

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That cultural exception appeared to be back on the bargaining table when, on March 13, the European Commissioner for trade, Karel De Gucht, presented a draft negotiation mandate to the Commission, intended as the basis for future talks. The draft includes Europe's film and TV industries as part of the talks, sparking fear here that industries subsidies could be on the way out.

Dozens of leading European film makers, including Michael Haneke, Michel Hayanavicius, Aki Kaurismaki, Stephen Frears and Pedro Almodovar, as well as international directors that often rely on European film funding, such as David Lynch and Jane Campion, have signed an online petition in support of the “cultural exception".

For his part, Commissioner De Gucht said “Nothing in the free trade agreement with the United States will harm – or even have the potential to harm – Europe’s cultural diversity”.

But expect the debate to heat up further in the coming weeks before the European Commission is set to deliver its official mandate to ministers on May 3.