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France firm on culture ahead of US trade talks

EU ministers were trying Friday to convince France its prized "cultural exception" could be safely included in talks on the world's biggest free trade deal with the United States but Paris still refused to budge.

France firm on culture ahead of US trade talks
French Commerce Minister Nicole Bricq. Photo: John Thys/AFP

France "rejects this mandate," French Commerce Minister Nicole Bricq told her EU colleagues at the opening of talks in Luxembourg, as they tried to resolve the issue before the G8 summit in Northern Ireland next week.

"France will refuse any mandate which does not come with protection of the cultural sector and a clear and explicit exclusion of the audiovisual sector," Bricq said in her opening remarks.

Washington says no areas should be excluded and EU officials have repeatedly warned that any exceptions will only hand the US an early bargaining chip in what promise to be very tough negotiations.

At the same time, ministers are under great pressure to agree the guidelines on which the European Commission will negotiate the EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) so the talks can be formally launched at next week's G8 meeting.

Washington and Brussels hope the free trade deal will deliver a major boost to growth and jobs, especially in Europe where the euro debt crisis has left the economy stuck in the doldrums.

An accord would be the world's largest Free Trade Agreement, with bilateral trade in goods last year worth some €500 billion ($670 billion), services worth another €280 billion and investment flows hitting the trillions.

The EU says it would add some €119 billion annually to the EU economy and €95 billion for the United States.

As the day dragged on, it appeared little progress was being made.

After some 10 hours of talks, ministers took up a what one EU source described as a "not in, not out" formula which would exclude the audiovisual sector for now but allow the Commission to come back to it if need be.

Diplomatic sources said it had been hoped that this would be enough to reach an overall accord but differences remained and talks were ongoing to try and nail down the issue.

French officials say culture generally in Europe is well protected from the Hollywood juggernaut, but with rapid technological change in the digital era, current protections on films and other content could easily be taken over.

It was therefore better to exclude the audiovisual sector now rather than risk putting it in the talks and get a deal that later proves dated and inadequate, they said.

Minister Richard Bruton of Ireland, which holds the current EU presidency and so chairs the talks, said earlier: "We have made a lot of changes to give confidence that the audiovisual sector will be protected."

In an effort to get France on board, the Commission had offered Paris a right of review and approval of any decisions taken on the cultural sector.

This was in addition to an earlier compromise to ring-fence film, TV and music in the US talks to further protect them, Bruton said.

An EU source said of the morning discussions that "a large majority were in favour" of the negotiating mandate on the table but the decision has to be unanimous among all 27 member states.

France jealously guards it cultural sector, with French TV stations required to air at least 40-percent home produced content while another 20 percent must come from Europe.

Cinema-goers pay a levy on each ticket to help fund the French film industry which many believe could not survive without such support in the face of Hollywood's dominance.

At the meeting, ministers were also to review a series of trade disputes with China which have also exposed deep differences within the EU — notably between Berlin and Paris.

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CULTURE

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

The French have developed an entire cultural tradition around the idea of an afternoon snack. It's called "Le goûter" and here's what you need to know about it.

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

With all those patisseries and viennoiseries tempting the tastebuds in high street boulangerie after boulangerie, there can be little wonder that France  – which takes food very seriously – has also invented the correct time to eat them.

Let us introduce you to the cultural tradition of le goûter – the noun of the verb “to taste”, and a cultural tradition in France dating back into the 19th century, perhaps even as far back as the Renaissance … allowing for the fact that people have snacked for centuries, whether or not it had a formal name. 

It refers to a very particular snack time, usually at around 4pm daily. This is the good news.

The bad news is that, officially, le goûter is reserved for children. This is why many schools, nurseries and holiday activity centres offer it and offices don’t. The idea is that, because the family evening meal is eaten relatively late, this mid-afternoon snack will keep les enfants from launching fridge raids, or bombarding their parents with shouts of, “j’ai faim!”.

Most adults, with their grown-up iron will-power, are expected to be able to resist temptation in the face of all that pastry, and live on their three set meals per day. Le grignotage – snacking between meals – is frowned on if you’re much older than your washing machine.

But, whisper it quietly, but just about everyone snacks (grignoter), anyway – a baguette that doesn’t have one end nibbled off in the time it takes to travel from boulanger to table isn’t a proper baguette. Besides, why should your children enjoy all the treats? 

We’re not saying ignore the nutritionists, but if you lead an active, reasonably healthy lifestyle, a bite to eat in the middle of the afternoon isn’t going to do any harm. So, if you want to join them, feel free.

What do you give for goûter 

It’s a relatively light snack – we’re not talking afternoon tea here. Think a couple of biscuits, a piece of cake, a pain au chocolat (or chocolatine, for right-thinking people in southwest France), piece of fruit, pain au lait, a croissant, yoghurt, compote, or a slice of bread slathered in Nutella.

Things might get a little more formal if friends and their children are round at the goûter hour – a pre-visit trip to the patisserie may be a good idea if you want to avoid scratching madly through the cupboards and don’t have time to create something tasty and homemade.

Not to be confused with

Une collation – adult snacking becomes socially acceptable when it’s not a snack but part of une collation served, for example, at the end of an event, or at a gathering of some kind. Expect, perhaps, a few small sandwiches with the crusts cut off, a few small pastries, coffee and water.

L’apéro – pre-dinner snacks, often featuring savoury bites such as charcuterie, olives, crisps and a few drinks, including alcoholic ones, as a warm up to the main meal event, or as part of an early evening gathering before people head off to a restaurant or home for their evening meal.

Un en-cas – this is the great adult snacking get-out. Although, in general, snacking for grown-ups is considered bad form, sometimes it has to be done. This is it. Call it un en-cas, pretend you’re too hungry to wait for the next meal, and you’ll probably get away with it.

Le goûter in action

Pour le goûter aujourd’hui, on a eu un gâteau – For snack today, we had some cake.

Veuillez fournir un goûter à votre enfant – Please provide an afternoon snack for your child.

J’ai faim ! Je peux avoir un goûter ? – I’m hungry! Can I have a snack?

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