France isolated as Germany ends opposition to US trade deal
Germany has dropped its opposition to starting talks on an EU-US free trade agreement, leaving France alone to fight for exemptions for European artists.
"Today, Germany has withdrawn its concerns and will approve a negotiating mandate for the EU commission on Friday," German economy ministry spokeswoman Julia Schwartz said on Wednesday (12 June) at a press conference in Berlin.
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EU trade ministers are to take a decision on the Union's free trade blueprint at a meeting in Luxembourg at the end of this week.
Schwartz noted that starting the free trade talks is a priority for US President Barack Obama.
She also said that internal US preparations for Washington's side of the negotiations are due to be wrapped up by 18 June, while Obama himself is to visit Berlin on 19 June.
Germany had earlier sided with France in saying that "culture" should be exempt from the new pact, in a bid to protect European film makers and musicians from being gobbled up by US competitors.
Its U-turn leaves France with only the European Parliament on its side.
But Paris has signalled it is ready to veto the EU mandate alone if need be.
France might still veto the EU decision on Frdi
"For France, if the audiovisual sector is not exempt, they will not agree," an EU diplomat told this website.
The contact noted that Paris disagrees with the European Commission, and now Germany, who say that if the EU calls of exemptions, then the US will start adding ones of its own.
"The US will exclude certain sectors anyway - they've already made clear that financial services will not be included in the talks. So there is really no reason why we should include culture," the EU diplomat said.
Germany is keen to press ahead despite revelations this week that US intelligence services are spying on German people's emails, online photos and chat logs to an astonishing extent.
Some MEPs have called for the EU to put a break on the trade talks until Washington comes clean on its so-called Prism surveillance programme.
But Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert on Wednesday said there is plenty of time to tackle other questions because the trade talks will take "years" even if they begin shortly.
He added there should be no link between free trade and Prism.
"We've seen numerous press reports on Prism, our government has sent questions to the US administration and is now waiting for a reply," he said.
The German interior ministry has sent 16 questions to the US ambassador in Berlin, asking whether German citizens were specifically targeted and what is the legal basis for the surveillance, among other topics.
The German justice minister also sent a letter to her counterpart in the US, Eric Holder, and is expecting "a swift answer."