Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

First Page



In October 1989, the foreign ministers of the European Community (EC or Community) approved a Directive governing the "pursuit" of trans-European television broadcasting beginning in 1992. Controversial article 4 of the Directive requires Member States to devote a majority of their television air time to European-produced programs. Although the Community Council maintains that the quota is merely "a political commitment" intended to preserve Europe's cultural heritage, the United States challenges the legality of the quota as economic protectionism under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and section 301 of the United States Trade Act, as amended by the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988 (section 301).

This Note examines the dispute between the United States and the EC concerning the implementation of the Directive's majority quota on non-Community television programming. First, discussion focuses on the implementation of the Directive against the backdrop of the expanding United States presence in the European television market. This note then sets forth the United States challenge to the adoption of the Directive. Next, the possibilities for successful United States challenge to the Directive under the GATT or section 301 are analyzed. This analysis evaluates the applicability of GATT principles to television broadcasting and discusses recent attempts to adopt a far reaching General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) governed by GATT principles. In examining the applicability of section 301 to this dispute, the author assesses past United States responses under section 301.

In conclusion, although the Directive raises legitimate concerns of the extent to which the EC will use quotas to achieve Community goals after 1992, the United States strong response to the Directive lacks credibility given past United States practice. Further, the Directive's economic impact on United States suppliers of television programs is lessened by the increasing need for programming hours to fill the expanding EC television market and by the opportunity to circumvent the Directive's "suggested majority" quota through European expansion by United States programming suppliers.