EU movie quotas are cultural protectionism

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.

Parliament documents say this:

“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.

Originally published at https://www.vocaleurope.eu/eu-movie-quotas-are-cultural-protectionism/

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About Bill Wirtz

Bill Wirtz is policy analyst for the Consumer Choice Center, based in Brussels, Belgium. Originally from Luxembourg, his articles have appeared across the world in English, French, German, and Luxembourgish. He is Editor-in-Chief of Speak Freely, the blog of European Students for Liberty, a contributing editor for the Freedom Today Network and a regular contributor for the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). He blogs regularly on his website in four languages.

Will a European plastics ban really help the environment

Over the course of this year, it seems as though the debate on environmental protection has greatly shifted to the issue of plastics, namely the effects of ill-disposed of waste on marine life.

This is no bad thing; the disastrous consequences of plastic rubbish on the oceans are well-documented, and I’d wager few could see the images and videos of marine animals affected by the waste and not feel inclined to ditch the plastic straw next time they get an iced coffee.

While the intentions behind this new focus are, undoubtedly, good, sadly the responses of governments across the world have been rather heavy-handed and reactionary, to say the least. Legislatures, such as that of the US State of California, have begun rushing out legislation which outright prohibits the use of single-use plastic items, such as straws.

With the European Commission now discussing a similar tactic, and with the European Parliament voting in favour of the new plastics strategy, we may soon witness similar restrictions across the EU.

But are further restrictions on single-use plastics really the best route to take, if the EU wishes to reduce its plastic footprint on the oceans? Moreover, what are the externalities of such a measure on the freedom of consumers, and those who rely on plastic items?

Barely Scratching the Surface

While plastic pollution is certainly a matter deserving of debate and action, it’s important not to forget just where all the waste is coming from. According to Statista, of the ten countries that contribute the most plastic waste into the oceans, nine are in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, with the United States being the only exception in tenth place.

As such, any reduction in Europe’s contribution to the problem will seem rather negligible in comparison to the mountains of plastic entering the oceans from other continents.

The effects of a plastic ban will seem smaller still when we consider the pollutive ‘qualities’ (for lack of a better word) of many ‘environmentally-friendly’ or ‘green’ alternatives to single-use plastic products. For example, the Commission press release on the new plastics strategy states that:

“Member States will have to reduce the use of plastic food containers and drinks cups. They can do so by setting national reduction targets, making alternative products available at the point of sale, or ensuring that single-use plastic products cannot be provided free of charge.”

While the alternatives discussed here are often less pollutive at the final stage of the products life, however, overall they often require far more fuel and energy at the production stage. For instance, the paper alternative to a styrofoam drinking cup, while far more biodegradable, produces far more pollution when factors such as production and transportation are taken into account.

In short, the EU’s plastic strategy seems to have the potential only to very slightly reduce the pollutive contribution of an entity that already makes up a mere fraction of the global problem.

Of course, this alone hardly constitutes a case against efforts to reduce European plastic waste; even the tiniest reduction in pollution and  plastic entering the ocean is progress towards cleaner planet. However, when we consider the costs and effects of a single-use plastic ban on more social factors, such as consumer choice and extra costs to businesses, the trade-off simply doesn’t seem worth it.

Better Alternatives

Sadly, the approach of banning or otherwise restricting the use and provision of single-use plastics punishes the many for the acts of a few. Owners of businesses such as cafe, bars, or restaurants will be required to switch from plastic straws and packaging to more-expensive paper or otherwise biodegradable alternatives, driving costs up and profit margins down as a result. This is a burden felt by certain cafes in California follow the aforementioned ban.

Moreover, to impose blanket bans or restrictions on single-use plastics overlook numerous detrimental effects to the consumer. Aside from the likely knock-on effects on prices brought about from the extra costs imposed on businesses, the European Vending and Coffee Association argues that the proposal compromises the ability of service businesses to guarantee proper hygiene as customers are incentivised to bring their own cups.

Rather than imposing unnecessary burdens on producers and consumers alike, the EU should consider a more pragmatic, less reactionary approach. For instance, improving the recycling infrastructure of Europe, and thus increasing the amount of plastic waste which is recycled rather than littered, would go far further at reducing the environmental impact with lessened social and economic implication

Instead of glazing over the real problem with a simple ban, let’s look for long-term, practical solutions that don’t place the positions of consumers and business owners in jeopardy.

Originally published at https://www.vocaleurope.eu/will-a-european-plastics-ban-really-help-the-environment/

Here’s a question consumers should ask the European Commission

Consumer have a lot of demands towards the European Commission, but one key question really needs to be asked. It’s a question of trust. There is this truism that says that you only notice what you are missing when you no longer have it at your disposal.

This is the impression you get when you notice the immense choice at our disposal when we go to supermarkets. Progress is not only visible in the fact that there are oranges, spices or Spanish wine, but also to the fact that there are several choices for each product. Compared to the bleak reality of countries where free trade and competition are a foreign word, our shelves are colourful, and have a price-performance ratio our grandparents could only have dreamt of.

But not everyone shares this enthusiasm for market-economy progress. For “public health defenders” and globalisation critics, our freedom of choice is problematic, for those who make a free choice will inevitably choose things that others do not like. Over the years, European Union institutions have shown the same level of distrust towards the individual.

At the end of the 20th century it seemed clear that our lifestyles were not necessarily the healthiest: we drank, smoked and ate too much. For this reason, authorities and politicians relied spreading information: an informed consumer is free to make his own decisions, but he must know what health damage he can suffer.

For a long time, everyone thought this starting point was rational. But because a minority of people continued to treat their own bodies poorly, regardless of the consequences, education became paternalism.

New tobacco regulations show well how paternalism has replaced information. Before the European Union’s 2015 tobacco regulation, the commercial cigarette packet indicated how much nicotine and tar were contained in each cigarette. Consumers who wanted to reduce their nicotine and tar consumption could find out on the box which correspond to their preferences.

The 2015 Tobacco Directive changed this: politicians believed that cigarettes with lower values could be considered “healthier” and abolished the contents to replace them with even bigger warnings. The idea seems to be that anything inhaled as smoke must be equally bad. The fact that this has no scientific basis does not seem to bother anyone in Brussels.

But well, with tobacco consumption at around 15-20% it is likely that most readers of this article will not necessarily feel addressed by this example. With products such as alcohol or sugar this is different. Even though an overwhelming majority of people is aware that one has to deal with both in a rational way, the Nanny State punishes through minimum pricing, higher taxes or reduced availability.

The latest proposals on limiting the ability of companies to market their products displays this type of distrust of the consumer: if we limit marketing, then it can only be because we believe that consumers are so brainwashed that they are unable to make up their own minds. That’s why we’ll make up their minds for them, presumably.

The question that any European Commission, which is at the origin of most regulations and proposals of this sort, needs to answer, is this: do you trust the consumer? Do you trust the consumer in his or her ability to make rational choices for him- or herself? And if not, who do you believe makes better choices for them?

Don’t misunderstand me: be it sugar, alcohol or tobacco, everything must be enjoyed with moderation and caution. Consumers should inform themselves consequences of their actions, but they should remain free to make their own choices. If not, we will be the victims of a patronising state that transforms our colourful supermarkets into barren and educational wastelands.

Originally published at https://www.vocaleurope.eu/heres-a-question-consumers-should-ask-the-european-commission/

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About Bill Wirtz

Bill Wirtz is policy analyst for the Consumer Choice Center, based in Brussels, Belgium. Originally from Luxembourg, his articles have appeared across the world in English, French, German, and Luxembourgish. He is Editor-in-Chief of Speak Freely, the blog of European Students for Liberty, a contributing editor for the Freedom Today Network and a regular contributor for the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). He blogs regularly on his website in four languages.

In defence of Tony the Tiger

SPIKED: Public-health advocates are moving in on the one danger we’ve all been missing: cereal-box cartoon characters. That’s right, Tony the Tiger, Cap’n Crunch, Count Chocula, and Snap, Crackle and Pop are all after our children. But, luckily, the European Union, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Jamie Oliver are here to protect us.

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About Bill Wirtz

Bill Wirtz is policy analyst for the Consumer Choice Center, based in Brussels, Belgium. Originally from Luxembourg, his articles have appeared across the world in English, French, German, and Luxembourgish. He is Editor-in-Chief of Speak Freely, the blog of European Students for Liberty, a contributing editor for the Freedom Today Network and a regular contributor for the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). He blogs regularly on his website in four languages.

Malbouffe: enlever Tony le tigre ne fera pas manger sainement les enfants

LA LIBRE: Ils sont les meilleurs juges de l’éducation de leurs enfants. Restreindre la publicité de produits dits “junk food” dans le but de protéger les enfants est une défiance vis-à-vis du jugement des parents.

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About Bill Wirtz

Bill Wirtz is policy analyst for the Consumer Choice Center, based in Brussels, Belgium. Originally from Luxembourg, his articles have appeared across the world in English, French, German, and Luxembourgish. He is Editor-in-Chief of Speak Freely, the blog of European Students for Liberty, a contributing editor for the Freedom Today Network and a regular contributor for the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). He blogs regularly on his website in four languages.

Quand l’Europe s’en prend à nos bières préférées

L’ECHO: L’Union européenne annonce agir avec pour objectif de réduire la consommation d’alcool. L’idée la plus récente en la matière : changer la politique fiscale pour encourager le brassage des bières à faible teneur en alcool. Ce changement nuira à toutes les brasseries belges.

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About Bill Wirtz

Bill Wirtz is policy analyst for the Consumer Choice Center, based in Brussels, Belgium. Originally from Luxembourg, his articles have appeared across the world in English, French, German, and Luxembourgish. He is Editor-in-Chief of Speak Freely, the blog of European Students for Liberty, a contributing editor for the Freedom Today Network and a regular contributor for the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). He blogs regularly on his website in four languages.

EU To Clamp Down On “Junk Food” Marketing

AMBULANCE TODAY: Bill Wirtz, Policy Analyst for the Consumer Choice Center (CCC) says it’s regrettable that the Council chooses a paternalistic approach over education.

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About Bill Wirtz

Bill Wirtz is policy analyst for the Consumer Choice Center, based in Brussels, Belgium. Originally from Luxembourg, his articles have appeared across the world in English, French, German, and Luxembourgish. He is Editor-in-Chief of Speak Freely, the blog of European Students for Liberty, a contributing editor for the Freedom Today Network and a regular contributor for the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). He blogs regularly on his website in four languages.

EU should protect its brands and legislate to reinforce them, Italian MEP says

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The Consumer Choice Center (CCC) NGO recently launched the Brands Matter Working Group, whose main objective is to oppose the spread of legislative measures against brands in Europe.

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About Luca Bertoletti

Luca graduated with a degree in Political Science from the University of Milan in December 2014. He worked as a Business Economics Analyst for the Italian magazine TheFielder in Milan and as Think Thank Coordinator for the Austrian Economics Center in Vienna. He is a fellow of Competere Institute in Rome, a columnist for Atlantico Quotidiano, and he sits on the scientific board of New Direction Italia. He has been featured in the New York Times, Radio RAI, RAI 1, El Economista, The National and many other newspapers.

The European Union Started This Trade War

FEE: If there is to be a trade war, it should be a trade war to see who can slash tariff barriers the most.

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About Bill Wirtz

Bill Wirtz is policy analyst for the Consumer Choice Center, based in Brussels, Belgium. Originally from Luxembourg, his articles have appeared across the world in English, French, German, and Luxembourgish. He is Editor-in-Chief of Speak Freely, the blog of European Students for Liberty, a contributing editor for the Freedom Today Network and a regular contributor for the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). He blogs regularly on his website in four languages.

Is the U.S. Now Freer than Europe in Terms of Marijuana Decriminalization?

FEE: In many regards, Europe is lagging far behind the U.S. when it comes to legal marijuana, writes Consumer Choice Center’s Bill Wirtz.

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About Bill Wirtz

Bill Wirtz is policy analyst for the Consumer Choice Center, based in Brussels, Belgium. Originally from Luxembourg, his articles have appeared across the world in English, French, German, and Luxembourgish. He is Editor-in-Chief of Speak Freely, the blog of European Students for Liberty, a contributing editor for the Freedom Today Network and a regular contributor for the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). He blogs regularly on his website in four languages.