Cultural diversity

News Releases / Speeches / Declarations

Cultural diversity: A priority for France!

Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, ministre de la culture et de la communication de la France, le 15 mars 2005 – 2005/03/15

In his hearing before the Foreign Affairs Commission of the French National Assembly, Mr. Donnedieu de Vabres points out that the very existence of a Ministry of Culture is a testament to France’s conviction, one which is increasing shared in Europe and throughout the world, that culture is an essential reality to be protected and developed: it is the foundation of our cultural policies. The Minister maintains that at the heart of the challenge of preserving and promoting cultural diversity, States now have the ability to freely establish and implement cultural policies. We simply need to ensure that all cultures are able to make their voices heard, the Minister states. He believes the aim of cultural policies is to guarantee national productions freedom of expression and a presence, so that they are not spontaneously put on the market, where profitability is the only rule. He also states that cultural uniformity is not a fantasy, but a real threat : « Market shares in Europe for foreign films alone, particularly American films, are proof of this. We need to remember that American audiovisual exports are the second largest type of exports to the United States behind aeronautics. And it’s the only sector showing a positive trade balance with all countries in the world. The share of the global market of European films in the European Union dropped from 27.8% in 2002 to 25.7% in 2003. Over the same time period, the share of American films rose from 70.1% to 72.1%. According to UNESCO, in 2000, 85% of films distributed to movie theatres around the world were produced in Hollywood studios; 50% of television dramas broadcast in Europe were made in the USA, reaching 67% in Italy; 70% of legal music recordings were split between two corporations in the world; and, among the ten most translated novelists in the world, nine were English language writers ». These realities of today’s world, he states, show that cultural diversity is neither a fad nor a slogan, but an asset for pushing back the shadow of globalization, which is brought on by the risk of global uniformization. He claims such a risk hinders our ability to continue receiving and offering a wide variety of cultural products, to share them with a diverse audience, and restricts our right to continue leading our own cultural policies.

The cultural diversity, the Minister maintains, is both the freedom of creation and the freedom to access creation. It allows for the most diverse audience to access the widest variety of intellectual and artistic works possible, while providing artists and creators the means to freely express themselves. It is about preserving the diversity of cultural practices, particularly the content of art and spiritual works. Public policies that support cultural diversity also contribute to economic and job growth. He further states that recognizing the right of States to adopt any necessary measures to promote and preserve cultural diversity is precisely the purpose of the Convention on the protection of cultural contents and artistic expressions currently being negotiated at UNESCO. He states that France, in response to the desire expressed by its President at the Johannesburg Summit, was at the forefront, along with Canada and Quebec, in promoting reflection on a international draft Convention on cultural diversity. The purpose of this Convention is to legally sanction the legitimacy of policies favouring the protection and promotion of cultural diversity. It aims to become a reference framework for States and other international organizations, enabling a balance to be struck between international trade regulations and cultural standards, which cannot be subject to international agreements and must benefit from an effective dispute settlement mechanism. According to the Minister, it will need to: reaffirm the unique nature of cultural goods and services; stress the right of States to implement cultural policies to preserve the diversity of cultural production and products; strengthen cooperation and solidarity in favour of developing countries. The cultural diversity will not allow us to close ourselves off to one another, to have an isolated identity. Its very nature requires an openness to other cultures.

To those who fear that such a text would limit the free flow of spiritual works, the Minister says, France responds that this is not the case at all. It is, in fact, in keeping with the role of the State in our liberal democracies to ensure the exercise of freedoms, fight monopolies, protect minorities, stimulate artistic creation and patronage, and encourage diversity. What applies to States applies to the world. A far cry from any sort of protectionism, the Convention on cultural diversity would allow for a more guaranteed flow of ideas, because it encourages a greater respect for others. According to the Minister, we should be pleased because the elaboration of the convention is now well underway. During the plenary conference, a consensus emerged on the recognition of the unique nature of cultural goods and services and the need to enable States to implement cultural policies, thus confirming the interest of the majority of State Members in the draft convention. However, much remains to be done to successfully see the convention through, to achieve an effective text which finds its place in the international legal system without being subject to trade agreements, and to convince as many States as possible of its merit. France, he maintains, will continue to work just as hard so that the Convention is able to resist the pressures exerted on the cultural sector by trade agreements and by WTO, and so that it is adopted in 2005.

As a result, the Minister points out that the work currently underway at UNESCO has given to European Union another opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to support cultural diversity, a commitment which is also a written obligation in the current Treaty on the European Union, and which is addressed in the European Constitution. Moreover, by maintaining the requirement for unanimity in negotiations and concluding agreements by the European Commission on behalf of European Union and its State Members in the trade of cultural and audiovisual services, European Union has renewed its commitment to protect cultural diversity cultural diversity in trade negotiations. He also points out that Europe’s ambition of uniting the citizens of its 25 State Members, not only in creating a free-trade area, but in respecting linguistic and cultural diversity within the European Union is a fundamental principal. That is why, he states, France has asked the EuropeanCommission to closely examine the “services directive”, or the so-called directive Bolkestein, due to the risks of legal insecurity and social dumping it poses. France has requested three exclusions concerning culture and communication by the EuropeanCommission for : « the audiovisual sector, a subject on which nine states agree with us; the media; the collective management of copyrights. We are alone on the last two subjects ». The Minister points out that culture and communication alone constitute nearly half of the exclusions requested by France, which is precisely because of our commitment to support cultural diversity. It is so important that we reaffirm this commitment that we have disputes with the Commission on several other issues, since the Directorate-Generals of the Internal Market and Competition are having a difficult time accepting the principle of cultural diversity.The fight for cultural diversity is being carried out in the vital sector of audiovisual communication, the Minister states. He concludes, « The promotion of cultural diversity concerns everyone. The government is fully committed to it under the authority of the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister. It seems vital that the National Representation fully do its part ». [05-06]