17.05.13 @ 09:30

BY LISBETH KIRK
BRUSSELS - Special treatment of culture "makes sense," European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso has said in relation to upcoming EU-US trade talks.

Speaking at the European Business Summit in Brussels on Thursday (16 May), he noted that "cultural diversity" has a special mention in the EU treaties, allowing member states to treat related products - such as books, films and music - differently to other items in the internal market.

"Having special quotas and cultural subsidies is accepted in Europe and the European Commission wants to keep it," he said.

The statement is likely to be welcomed in Paris, where the "cultural exception" is an emotive topic.


It also follows a visit by French President Francois Hollande to Brussels on Tuesday.

European culture ministers from Germany, France and 12 other member nations earlier this week called for the audiovisual sector to be exempt from negotiations for the EU-US free trade deal.

The French-inspired initiative emerged on Tuesday, the day after British Prime Minister David Cameron, on a visit to Washington, said that all subjects and products should be up for discussion in the coming negotiations on the proposed free trade area.

The letter - signed by culture ministers from Germany, France, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain - called for maintaining the European Union position "which has always excluded audiovisual services, in the World Trade Organisation as well as bilateral talks, from any agreements on trade liberalisation."

Meanwhile, EU culture ministers meeting on Friday in Brussels will discuss cultural diversity in the context of the transatlantic trade talks.

Last month EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht said that policies that help protect European culture and media from the Hollywood dominance would not be part of the talks.

"Europe will not put its cultural exception at risk through trade negotiations," De Gucht said.

But MEPs are divided on whether the European culture sector should be excluded.

Some deputies have argued that excluding areas from trade talks even before they begin is unhelpful.

Last month (25 April) deputies on the parliament's international trade committee backed a report by Portuguese centre-left deputy Vital Moreira by 23 votes to five calling for the EU's priorities to include the opening up of the public procurement and financial services sectors.

But an amendment calling for cultural and audiovisual services to be excluded from talks was narrowly carried by 14 votes to 11.

When negotiations are completed, the EU-US agreement would be the biggest bilateral trade deal ever negotiated.

The European Commission says it could add around 0.5 percent to the EU's annual economic output.

In addition to culture, the French government has also said the EU should exclude defence from trade talks.

In another area, Brussels and Washington are already sparring over the sensitive subject of genetically modified crops and the food products that include them.

The EU has much more restrictive policies than the US in this field.

Negotiations on the so-called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are supposed to start after the G8 summit in London on 17 and 18 June.

Read the original article on euobserver.com: http://euobserver.com/news/120159