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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La culture, une exception essentielle

by Paule Masson

Culture - an Essential Exception.

Translated Wednesday 12 June 2013, by Sophie Roche

“One poet, and everything will be saved”, said Jean Vilar. The creator of Avignon Festival has fought all his life for the creation of a large public service for Culture, as essential to civilisation as water, gas and electricity. He said in his usual manner that culture merits investment and must stay far, far away from the shopkeepers’ commercial mind-set, from standards of accountancy and from market logic.

At the time when the Cannes Festival is opening, the film-makers take on a major role in the defence of a conception of culture which does not give in before the forces of the financial markets. The petition, ‘Cultural exception is non-negociable’, signed by the leading film directors, set off the alarm and fuelled a movement which could well prevent Europe from yielding to the temptation to make culture subject to neo-liberalism.

The stakes are high.

Before summer, official negotiations are expected to commence between the European Commission and the United States about a free trade agreement qualified by José Manuel Barroso, the chief commissioner as the “largest trade agreement in the world.” Following failure in 2006 of the rounds of negotiations conducted under the aegis of the World Trade Organisation on the “liberalisation of international commerce”, Brussels and Washington are advancing toward the establishment of a transatlantic market. Not only is the European social policy said to have little to gain from free trade movement of all goods and services, but the mandate proposal also integrates audiovisual and cinema services into the negotiations.

The same Barroso, who afforded himself the luxury of claiming that “culture is the response to the crisis”,

... felt himself justified in trampling on a principle born in Europe twenty years ago, under France’s instigation, when the European Union brought about the exclusion of cultural benefits from negotiations concerning the AGCS (the General Agreement on Trade in Services). In the face of this "cultural exception", constructed on the idea that only a system of public support can protect cultural diversity, the North American model is anchored within a purely financial logic which encourages standardisation. So the negotiation will certainly not be peaceful. The exclusion of culture from the proposed treaty is essential as a prerequisite; Aurélie Filippetti will defend this position on Friday with thirteen of her peers, during a meeting of the European Ministers for Culture.

She should seize the opportunity to ask a sensible question.

In times of crisis, what should you do with culture? The shopkeepers’ attitudes lead to repeated cuts, considering that culture is not essential. And one has to admit that the world has been severely lacking in poetry for some time. François Hollande had promised to “sanctify” the culture budget. However, he has decided on a historic reduction of 4.3%. By taxing local authorities, he is sapping a precious source of aid. The revision of the system for workers in the employment industry having no steady employment is one of the main targets of the next negotiation, to reduce the deficit of unemployment insurance. When public service retreats, private interests move in, and cultural exception slowly dies away. It’s all a question of its conception. And one may consider that in this time of austerity, it is culture that allows us to stand our ground, because it disrupts, questions and encourages subversive thought that is essential to the whole of civilisation.

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