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Freya Baetens speaks at UNESCO conference

Last week, the Ravenna School of Law hosted the UNESCO conference on World Heritage between Education and Economy: A Legal Analysis, at which Freya Baetens presented her paper entitled The new generation of EU Free Trade Agreements: heralding the end of public financial support to maintain cultural heritage and diversity?

In this paper she explains that third countries often express a strong interest in gaining access to the EU services market, including to cultural sectors such as audiovisual services. The EU’s stance is that cultural services should be treated differently from other ‘regular’ services so as to minimize the potential impact of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) on any sector related to cultural heritage. More specifically, in light of the EU’s standard practice in previous FTAs not to negotiate the circumstances in which public subsidies supporting cultural diversity can be granted, the European Commission stated that the new agreements:

… will not affect the ability of the EU or EU Member States to provide financial support to cultural industries. National authorities will remain free to subsidise any type of cultural activities, such as live performances, festivals, theatres, musicals and publishing. They will also be able to discriminate against [third country] suppliers. Such public financial support may take a variety of forms, such as direct grants, tax advantages, debt offsetting and guarantees.

The new EU agreements (as currently conceived) diverge significantly, however, in their treatment of cultural heritage. Freya Baetens argues that this fragmentation of regulation of the cultural industries risks creating room for misunderstandings and legal disputes. Her conclusions also provide a warning signal for cultural heritage protection under other preferential trade and investment treaties, as well as, more broadly speaking, for any public financial support given to maintain diversity – be it cultural, social or environmental. 

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