José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission branded France “reactionary” on Monday in reference to Paris’s position during crucial talks over a potential landmark free trade deal between EU and the United States.
During the fraught negotiations France insisted that its prized audiovisual sector must be exempt from what would stand as the world’s largest free trade agreement. The stubborn insistence on 'cultural exception' angered EU chiefs and Barroso vented his frustration in an interview with the International Herald Tribune.
“It’s part of the anti-globalization program that I consider totally reactionary,” Barroso told the Paris based newspaper.
“Some of those [who defend France’s ‘cultural exception’] say they are left but they are actually extremely reactionary,” he added.
“They do not understand the benefits brought by globalization, including from a cultural point of view, to broaden perspectives and give us the sentiment of belonging to same humanity,” the EU chief said.
Speaking at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland French President François Hollande said he could not believe Barroso, who did not actually name France in his attack, was behind such as accusation.
"I do not want to believe that the President of the European Commission could make such a statement about France," he said to reporters upon his arrival at Lough Erne.
This is not the first time Barroso has laid into France for its stance towards globalization. The EU chief said last month that France was "spitting in the wind" with its anti-global view.
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.
EU officials, however repeatedly warned that excluding any economic sector could hand the US an early bargaining chip in what promise to be tough negotiations.
Washington has said no areas should be excluded from the talks.
But after 13 hours of talks on Friday, France finally got its way with the EU agreeing to bow to a compromise.
Minister Richard Bruton of Ireland, which holds the current EU presidency and so chairs the talks, said: "We have made a lot of changes to give confidence that the audiovisual sector will be protected."
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.