* France pushing to exempt culture from talks with US
* EU parliament has advisory role, veto over final deal
By Claire Davenport and Robin Emmott
BRUSSELS, May 23 European Union lawmakers voted
on Thursday to limit the scope of a proposed free-trade deal
between Europe and the United States, backing French demands to
leave out culture and potentially irritating Washington.
The European Parliament, which can veto EU trade accords,
voted 460 in favour and 105 against with 28 abstentions to limit
Brussels' room for manoeuvre in talks on a deal that would
encompass almost half the world's economic output.
"It is crucial not to consider culture as a pure commodity,"
said Helga Truepel, a member of the parliament from the German
Although non-binding, the parliament's vote provides support
for French demands to exclude the cultural sector from a deal.
It will likely establish the parameters of the EU's negotiating
mandate, which will be finalised on June 14.
EU-U.S. negotiations are expected to start in July and to
take two years.
Washington and Brussels say the broadest deal possible is
the best way to unleash billions of dollars in new business, and
EU trade chief Karel De Gucht told lawmakers in the parliament
on Wednesday that he needs flexibility to win U.S. concessions.
U.S. lawmakers say they will not support a deal unless it
tears down barriers that have long blocked U.S. exports. One
U.S. official said the talks risked "death by a thousand cuts"
if a policy of tit-for-tat exemptions were to take over.
France's Trade Minister Nicole Bricq welcomed the European
Parliament's vote but said she wanted to see public procurement
for defence contracts exempted too, something De Gucht wants to
include in the talks.
De Gucht and EU ministers cannot ignore the European
Parliament. Last year an overwhelming majority of its lawmakers
vetoed ACTA, an international trade agreement intended to clamp
down on fake goods and illegal Internet downloading.
France, Europe's second largest economy, has threatened to
block the start of U.S. talks unless it retains a "cultural
exception" that allows the government to limit foreign
programmes on French airwaves and to subsidise French films.
French Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti sent a letter to
EU lawmakers on Wednesday calling on them to back exempting
culture from the talks, and said France has the support of other
EU member states.
France's support for a transatlantic deal is crucial. A
British push for an EU-U.S. trade agreement collapsed in the
1990s in the face of French resistance.
Creative industries in other European countries have also
lobbied against including culture in trade negotiations, fearing
that a deal would allow U.S. filmmakers to take advantage of
shrinking European cultural subsidies, for example.
"We have fought laboriously to create humane working
conditions for our writers, but that is now in peril," said
Jochen Greve, a screenwriter for the German TV show Tatort.
De Gucht supports leaving cultural subsidies out of any
pact. He wants to leave room for talks on digital technology but
the French and lobbyists in the creative sector say this could
still unfairly benefit American companies.
(Additional reporting by Ingrid Melander in Paris; Editing by
Rex Merrifield and Sonya Hepinstall)