Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The "Cultural Exclusion" Divides Europe

Michel Barnier, European commissioner in charge of domestic markets, has reacted vehemently to European Commission president Manuel Barroso's declaration that the "cultural exception" to trade negotiations that France has won from its partners is "reactionary." Such public dissension in top EU ranks is rare. Although I rarely agree with Mr. Barroso, I do in this case. The cultural exception is one of those French eccentricities that baffle and exasperate even well-disposed foreigners. It is an "identitarian" anxiety that, altogether too explicably, plays well with the normally anti-identitarian Left because it is directed primarily against the great neoliberal Satan, the United States. It is also a convenient alibi for the Socialist government, a sop to be thrown to protectionist critics of its generally liberal approach to trade issues.


Massilian said...

Mais non monsieur Goldhammer, la culture n'est pas une marchandise comme une autre. Et le libéralisme économique appliqué à la culture crée des déserts et des cimetières culturels. Even the very american Steven Spielberg seems to agree on that.

Gilbert said...

Canada too practices forms of 'cultural protectionism', and many countries keep forms of protection, or promotion, for their audio visual sectors, for example. The US 'entertainment industry' has often be quite brutal in its attitude to 'competition'. You don't have to be anti-American to want to remain, in some respects, yourself. I for one would miss French films, very much.

Mitch Guthman said...

Perhaps the French think there are certain things that are more important to them than optimal market based outcomes. Free markets don't necessarily create the best, most just results for a democratic society and perhaps that's why the French reaction to Barroso's neoliberal comments has been uniformity and rightly negative.

Anonymous said...

Je suis d'accord avec Massilian. The cultural exemption involves two measures: the embedded tax on movie tickets, which goes to subsidize French cinema; and the European Commission's Television without Frontiers directive, which mandates a percentage of European (and in France, French) content in television programming. This conforms to WTO rules (as it did to the GATT) and there is no reason whatever for Europe to give it up under pressure from the US and its entertainment industry lobby. It should not even be on the table. Audiovisuals are not commodities and do not conform to the logic of the market. France is absolutely right to draw a red line on this. As for Barroso, qu'il aille se faire voir.


FrédéricLN said...

I agree :

* with the opinion that free circulation of goods and services also make sense regarding cultural goods and services (the opposite, after all, is connected to censorship and totalitarism);

* with the opinion that the "cultural exemption" makes sense, and has proven effective so far.

I think the reason is *not* deeply connected with some extra-economic value of culture (after all, these French productions protected are pop songs, popular movies, TV series and so on, much more than "la grande culture", which is not a free market thing, but rather subsidized by private or public funding, in all parts of the known universe ;-) ).

It's connected, rather, to the internal structure of present economics: most of the cost is in the investment, not the production of marginal units. Returns are increasing when sales grow, not diminishing. Therefore, free competition directly fosters monopolistic positions instead of diversity. Culture is just the most obvious example of this new economy.

From my point of view, "free and unbiased competition" is to be fostered — but that requires that he State maintains the economic/social ecosystem, creates conditions for diversity to grow. That requires a great deal of regulations and taxes (how difficult as it is to keep them sound, consistent and relevant, "debiasing" instead if "biasing").

The bottom line would be: I agree with the principle of cultural exemption, but a) I'm not comfortable with what government will do behind this firewall — citizens and stakeholders should watch more; b) I would like the case of culture to influence the doxa about competition regarding others industries too!

Mitch Guthman said...


You make some good points. Just to show that I'm not a total ideologue, I'm willing to say that France must make some adaptations to American neoliberal demands.

Specifically, in return for America's taking the cultural exemption off of the bargaining table, France should agree to immediately halt all subsidies to Gerard Depardieu.


Anonymous said...

Exception culturelle: l'art qui cache la forêt


FrédéricLN said...

@ Mitch Guthman : indeed! An issue with the "exception culturelle" system is that it fills first the pockets of those with the largest pockets. Because, when you have the obligation to spend money (on French production, singers, and so on), you look for these who will help you spend this compulsory sum as fast as possible, so that you can dedicate most of your attention to more important topics such as negotiating the purchase of US movies, FIFA soccer events or others.