The European Parliament calls for a 30 per cent mandatory quota of European productions for audiovisual content providers, surpassing the Commission’s suggested 20 per cent. We have to call this proposal what it is: cultural protectionism.
All too often, political projects are judged not by the merit of the particular policy, but by the politician who suggested it. Take the example of content quotas existing for French radio: 35 per cent of all music played on French radio stations needs to be French.
The laws – and their amended versions – have been introduced and reformed by mainstream political parties, but it’d hardly be controversial to claim that had Marine Le Pen suggested them, while having French flags in the background, we’d think very differently of the policy. It would be labelled nationalism, and rightfully so.
For some reason, EU legislators escape this judgement, because now it’s being done on a continent-wide level. But on what sort of basis could anyone in the European Union argue that consuming European audiovisual content is in any way preferable to a movie from South Africa or a song from Malaysia?
The suggested legislation might not say “less content from Africa”, but in essence it incentivises that. It makes the assumption that politicians should be in charge of choosing what we should listen to and watch, and that assertion on its own is worrisome to say the least.
A year ago, EU council ministers backed the idea of requiring audiovisual content providers to include at least 30 percent of European productions on their platforms. This means that providers such as Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, or Netflix will have to include content that the EU deems “European” enough.
Whatever that means. Specifics as to how European a movie needs to be in order to qualify for the said quota, are currently still unknown. EU Digital Commissioner Mariya Gabriel said, “our cultural sector will have a more prominent place in on-demand catalogues—a significant and positive change for European creators and authors.” Since May 2017, the scope of the directive has been extended to include ‘social media’ services.
“VOD platforms are also required to contribute to the development of European audiovisual productions, either through direct investment in content or through contributions to national funds. The level of these contributions should be proportional to VOD service providers’ revenues in the country in which they are established or in the country whose audience they mostly target.”
The bottom line is this: European movies don’t fail to get picked up by Netflix because they aren’t American, but because they’re not up to the game. The only European movies that do well are those which either deal in phenomenal stereotypes, like Amélie, or if they pick up historical events, played in authentic locations and with authentic people (no Tom Cruise as Stauffenberg, please).
Then again, these films are only considered successful because they did well in the U.S box office. But in reality, these films would not survive in a purely European market. Europe produces dreadful soap operas and sorry comedies, the only good aspects of which are those that were ripped off from American cinema. The same goes for music; Europe is not up to the game, given its linguistic diversity: there is only so much internationally popular music that can come out of non-English-speaking countries.
This doesn’t imply that creativity could not spike all of a sudden, but rather that no quota, and no EU commissioner, will create any more of it. In fact, quite the opposite is the case: the nationalistic quotas will incentivise the confident yet untalented to produce mediocre content, without contributing anything of value to Europe and its creators. No great artist has ever come out of a government-funded culture programme.