Nationalistic Inanities Masking Protectionism?

Talks between the EU and the US over establishing a free trade pact are currently in the preliminary phase. One would of course normally think that free trade doesn't require entire battalions of bureaucrats negotiating for months or even years and creating pamphlets the size of several telephone books laying down directives, but there are a great many 'special interests' that need to be reconciled nowadays, so a simple declaration that 'trade shall henceforth be free' and a dismantling of all tariff barriers isn't considered to be enough. If not for the efforts of 19th century classical economists who demonstrated irrefutably the errors of mercantilism, it would be highly unlikely  that today's politicians would even consider making trade more free something worth striving for. But thankfully, the echo of Ricardo's law of association is still heard.

We previously reported on the latest cunning plan of Francois Hollande's government to raise taxes on various electronic gadgets based on the alleged need to defend 'France's cultural exception'. The latest chapter in this slightly loopy fight against imaginary enemies threatens to derail the aforementioned trade talks before they even get going. The FT reports:


“Paris is threatening to block EU-US trade talks that Britain wants to launch at this month’s G8 summit in Northern Ireland if French demands to exclude cultural industries such as music and film are not met.

Washington, London and Brussels are pushing hard for a new transatlantic trade agreement to boost the US and European economies, with President Barack Obama swinging his weight behind the move.

But France has mounted a fierce campaign to defend l’exception culturelle– an internationally-agreed system that allows subsidies, tax breaks and quotas to protect local film, television and music industries from being swamped by mainly American, English-language products. President François Hollande has made preserving the system a “red line” for agreeing to talks.

The move comes as Europe faces intensifying trade tensions with China, which has launched an investigation into European wine exports. China said the move followed complaints from domestic producers that the rise in Chinese consumption of Bordeaux, Chianti and Champagne was due to illegal subsidies back home. But European officials believe the move was a retaliation for Europe’s proposed tariffs on Chinese solar panels.

On the EU-US trade talks, David Cameron, the UK prime minister, and the European Commission want Europe to put as much on the table as possible at the start of the negotiations – including the audio-visual sector – while leaving open the prospect of protecting key sectors at the end of the talks.

In a recent letter to the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, and all her EU counterparts, Nicole Bricq, the trade minister, warned of “the risks that a refusal to explicitly exclude audio-visual services from the scope [of the talks] would pose to the very launch of negotiations”. A senior French official said: “Our position is clear. If audio-visual is not excluded there will be no mandate to start the talks.” He added: “If David Cameron does not want his [G8] party to be spoiled, he will need to convince the commission [to accept France’s position]. They have got to choose.”


(emphasis added)

So the best way to start trade negotiations, according to France, is to exclude certain sectors from them a priori. In this, France is supported by the entire EU. At the same time, the EU is attempting to square the circle, as the US has made clear that excluding certain sectors of the economy from the negotiations at the outset makes no sense whatsoever. Here are a few more quotes from the article:


“The issue has become fraught for Brussels since many EU trade officials fear that if Europe begins ringfencing industries, the US will respond in kind. “We should not exclude the audio-visual sector in negotiations with the US,” Mr Barroso said last month. “At the same time, we must make it clear that the cultural exception is not negotiable.”

In addition, the US has insisted all issues be on the table as a precondition for negotiations. “To accomplish an ambitious and comprehensive agreement, we should not be carving out issues before the negotiation even begins,” said a senior US official involved in the talks.”

(emphasis added)

However, France has informed Barroso that it can easily afford to act like a petulant child on the issue, as the French public seems not overly interested in transatlantic free trade anyway:


“The French official said the government’s stance was bolstered by the low level of general support in France for the new transatlantic initiative. “There is no enthusiasm in France for the trade negotiations. There would be no hesitation on the part of the government [to block the talks].”


(emphasis added)

One can evidently always rely on the public's economic ignorance in order to defend special interests to the public's detriment. Let's not forget, the French actually elected Hollande. Ever since his reign began, he has given the public what it wanted – good and hard. Incidentally, French unemployment has just risen to a new record high. France should actually be very interested in an expansion of free trade, since that would likely give the economy a much-needed shot in the arm. However, there is more than just economic interests behind the 'cultural exception'.


The 'Cultural Exception' and France's Language Police

In many ways the whole issue is a bit mystifying on the surface. After all, France's own film industry is actually quite successful, especially with movies that essentially imitate the well-worn Hollywood formulas while adding to them a genuine French flair. It's not clear why it is seen as being in need of subsidization.

Generally, the argument for subsidizing art runs along elitist lines: the public is held to be unable to recognize what constitutes 'good art'. Therefore, if one wants to preserve the production of good art, one needs to counteract the public's evident reluctance to spend its hard-earned money on it. The public's  propensity to consume Hollywood's 'trash' with great relish is regarded as a kind of malady, the exports from Hollywood as the vanguards of an invasion of  garbage designed to dumb us all down. The 'common man' is considered as mentally too weak to withstand this onslaught. The ruling elite has decided that consumers don't know what is good for them.

Let us consider this also from the point of view of artists. Of course artists would like to be subsidized, but any genuine artist who feels a deep inner urge to produce art will do so whether or not the public at large approves of his products. Many artists have been recognized later as having been 'ahead of their time'; many never received the kind of recognition in their lifetime that they garnered later. It certainly happens that art is misunderstood or its value not fully recognized by contemporary society. That may be difficult for the artists concerned, as it is an obstacle to making a living from producing art.  On the other hand, no genuine artist has ever been kept from his artistic endeavors by such considerations. Often artists producing valuable, but not necessarily popular art will find support from well-heeled patrons. Even not widely popular elitist artworks do have their fans. They may be fewer in number, but nowadays, with modern means of communication such as the internet, it is also much easier to actually find them and entice them to lend their support. In short, there is usually always a market for good art, even if it is not of the Hollywood blockbuster kind.

It is quite different when art that doesn't sell well is subsidized with tax payer funds. In that case, the funds of a reluctant public are appropriated by force in order to finance things people are unwilling to pay for on their own. It is no longer necessary to find even a single genuine supporter of the art concerned –  one only has to find a bureaucracy willing to hand over tax payer funds. Who decides in such cases what art is worthy of support? What are the criteria employed? Why are bureaucrats held to better judges of the merits of art than consumers? It should be quite clear that the subsidization of art is essentially a racket.

The French are especially obsessed with their culture and the alleged need to preserve it by force if necessary. There is for instance a government-financed drive to invent new French words for things people as a rule employ foreign language terms for (most of the time this concerns English terms, and often they have to do with computers). As a result, the French Ministry of Culture is widely referred to as the 'language police'. Under culture minister Jacques Toubon, the so-called Toubon law was introduced in the mid 1990s:


“[A law] mandating the use of the French language in official government publications, in all advertisements, in all workplaces, in commercial contracts, in some other commercial communication contexts, in all government-financed schools, and some other contexts

[…] the law mandates the use of the French language in all broadcast audiovisual programs, with exceptions for musical works and 'original version' films. Broadcast musical works are subject to quota rules under a related law whereby a minimum percentage of the songs on radio and television must be in the French language.”


(emphasis added)

Among the many ridiculous outgrowths of the language police's efforts is the recent ban on use of the term 'hashtag' on Twitter. The French have been ordered to employ 'mot-dièse' instead. According to a press report on the matter, the same government department ordered the ban of the term 'e-mail' in 2003. 'Facebook' and 'Twitter' may no longer be mentioned on television either:


“The ban is part of the French government’s ongoing effort to preserve the purity of the French language, despite the increasingly common use of English words and phrases across the country. The Local reports that the decision has been handed down by the Commission Générale de Terminologie et de Néologisme, the French language police who are officially charged with encouraging “the presence of the French language on social media networks.”

The same governing group announced a ban on the word “e-mail” in 2003, instead asking citizens to check their “courriel.” And in 2011, the French broadcast authority banned any mention of “Facebook” and Twitter” on radio and television unless the words were integral to the story.”


(emphasis added)

Recently prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault ordered his cabinet to stop using English terms. “The language of France is French”, he sternly reminded his colleagues. The Academie Francaise has issued a 65 pages long pamphlet of blacklisted English words:


“In January, France’s official language police, the Academie Francaise called for the French to stop using the words ‘hashtag’ and ‘cloud computing’.

Two years ago the Academie issued a 65-page black-list of English words, including obscure terms like ‘shadow-boxing’, ‘detachable motor caravan’ and ‘multifunctional industrial building’.

Senior French government adviser Herve Bourges warned at the time that the global domination of Anglo-Saxon culture had plunged the future of the French language into crisis. He said: 'French is being besieged by the growing numbers of English speakers around the world.”


(emphasis added)

There are countless bureaucrats busy with hunting down offensive foreign terms and coming up with alternatives for them (which then absolutely no-one uses in daily practice). For instance, 'cloud computing' is henceforth to be referred to as 'informatique en nuage'. Not even the good old 'drop-out' is safe   ('decrochage'), nor the e-book ('liseuse'). Of course all these attempts to enforce language purity are in vain. It's a good bet the vast majority of the French people is blissfully unaware of the neologisms invented by the bureaucracy on its behalf.

When thinking about this language fascism a bit, we remembered something we read quite some time ago in an essay by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn entitled 'Monarchy and War'. The essay's focus is mainly on destroying the myth that democracies are inherently peaceful and on demonstrating that wars waged by democracies are especially pitiless and all-encompassing. Inter alia Kuehnelt-Leddihn discusses the French Revolution and its atrocities and how the idea that 'equality' should be established by force subsequently influenced the conduct of war. There was one especially interesting passage that actually sheds some light on the source of the obsession of French socialists with the French language:


“Needless to say that the new ideal, the ethnically uniform state, is more in harmony with “militarization” than the ethnically mixed state—and also for the development of parliamentary institutions. Mark Twain has given us an account of parliamentary life in Vienna,  and John Stuart Mill has insisted that democracy is problematic in a multilingual state — no wonder, since totalitarian institutions need linguistic uniformity. Added to this is the fact that the ethnic majority, through its party (or parties), seeks to rule democratically, but not in a liberal way, over the minorities (multilinguality in a parliament as well as in an army creates enormous difficulties.) Hence also the hostility of the French Revolution toward the use of non-French languages in the Republic. The rise of democracy and of ethnic nationalism went in synchro-mesh.”


(emphasis added)

To summarize: the enforcement of language uniformity is an essential hallmark of the totalitarian, nationalistic State. And this is ultimately the source of the whole 'cultural exception' idea and the associated policing of the language. It is  an attempt by the territorial monopolist on the use of violence to cement its rule and very existence. Of course it may well be that today's language policemen are no longer consciously aware of the original source of their efforts. However, we think Kuehnelt-Leddihn was definitely on to something.




French prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault: “The language of France is French!” His cabinet is no longer allowed to employ English terms.

(Photo via The Web, AFP)





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No Responses to “France Threatens Trade Talks over ‘Cultural Exception’”

  • Crysangle:

    An invitation to read about Occitan :

    …other scholars point out that the process that led to the affirmation of Catalan as a distinct language from Occitan was started during the period when the pressure to include Catalan-speaking areas to a mainstream Spanish culture was at its greatest.

    …then came the French Revolution, and then Napoleon, and a new constitution that declared France “one people, one nation, one language.” Occitan all but disappeared.

    …. In the interests of imposing an official language to help bolster a nascent national identity. You may still hear people refer to Occitan as a “patois” a derogatory term for a unofficial language or dialect. This term became common during the period of the French Revolution – the result of a nasty little project led by Abbé Grégoire for the elimination of “patois” in France….Occitan was the first literary language of modern Europe.

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