Britain has hit back at an EU plan to slash the “disproportionate” number of British TV and films shown in Europe.
The European Commission has been asked to carry out an impact study on the risk of British cultural imperialism, in possible first step towards tough rules banning UK shows from screens.
British dominance on TV and streaming services, thanks to hit shows such as The Crown and Downton Abbey, was described as a threat to Europe’s “cultural diversity” in a leaked EU document.
The commission impact study could be a first step towards regulations to cut down the number of UK shows, which could have ramifications on fundraising for future British blockbusters.
A Whitehall source accused Brussels of "cutting off their nose to spite their face" to punish the UK for having the temerity to quit the bloc.
Such was EU anger at Brexit, the source said, Brussels was willing to deprive Europeans of feel good romantic comedies such as Bridget Jones’ Diary or brooding, sensual and sumptuous period dramas like Poldark.
Downton Abbey has been much loved by audiences in Britain and abroad
Credit: Carnival Films/Nick Briggs
"The reason people watch and like our content is because it’s enjoyable and good to watch," the Whitehall source said. "They aren’t acting in their audiences’ best interests.”
EU member states have long had quotas for European TV programmes and films to protect from competition from popular English language American shows.
Under Brussels’ audiovisual media services directive, 30 per cent of programmes on services like Netflix and Amazon Prime and most terrestrial programming must be “European works”.
France, which struggles with status anxiety due to English’s status as the Continent’s lingua franca, goes further and sets a 60 per cent quota on streaming services.
Last year, 22 per cent of films and TV series shown on streaming platforms in Europe were from the EU-27. The European Audiovisual Observatory said 8 per cent came from the UK and 2 per cent from other European countries.
A senior government source told the Telegraph that any EU move to disqualify British programmes as “European works” could be met with legal action.
Aidan Turner stars in popular BBC drama Poldark
The UK remains a member of the Council of Europe, which is not an EU body, and the European convention on Transfrontier Television of the Council of Europe.
The EU regulation refers to that convention, which means UK lawyers could argue that British works still qualify as “European” despite Brexit.
“In our view the UK continues to qualify because we are signatories of the Council of Europe and the convention on trans-frontier television,” the government source said. There are 20 other non-EU members of the Council of Europe, which was founded in 1949 and includes countries such as Russia and Turkey.
The shot across Britain’s bows will only exacerbate tensions in the UK-EU relationship, which are already strained by the threat of a trade war over sausages and Northern Ireland.
There have also been rows over fishing rights, which saw the Royal and French navy dispatched to Jersey and vaccine supplies since the UK left the transition period on December 31.