Don’t cut British shows from streaming platforms in Europe, say German MEPs

Brussels must not “shut the door” on British film and television, MEPs have said, as the European Commission mulls excluding the UK from a quota system designed to boost European productions on streaming platforms.

In order to operate across Europe, streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+ currently have to ensure that at least 30% of the films they have in their online catalogues are “European works”.

Not only the 27 EU member states but also countries including Britain, Turkey, and Switzerland are included in the quota. But, in the wake of Britain’s departure from the EU, France is leading calls to strike UK productions from the list streamers can choose from to meet it.

However, in a sign of a growing split between the two biggest member states, German MEPs appear to be leading the pushback.

“Especially now that many British people are starting to recognise that Brexit wasn’t the best idea, we should be leaving doors open, not shut them,” said Sabine Verheyen, a German MEP who chairs the European parliament’s committee on culture and education.

“While we are seeking a close cooperation with the UK in areas like education or musicians’ abilities to work across borders, it makes absolutely no sense to have a different stance on film.”

A policy discussion document that was circulated around Brussels at the start of the year proposed that “since the UK is no longer a member of the EU, works originating in the UK should no longer be considered as European” for the purposes of the quota. The same move was considered for Switzerland, “which has never expressed the wish to be part of the EU”.

A European Commission report published in May highlighted the disproportionate share on streaming platform’s catalogues taken up by British films and British-American coproductions, increasing concerns among some MEPs that Brussels is seriously considering pulling the plug on the UK.

Verheyen warned that excluding British-American co-produced films from European quotas could have the unintended consequence of limiting European films’ ability to reach international audiences. “If we shut the door on them, why shouldn’t they shut the door on us?” she said.

In spite of the success of recent non-English language films and series, such as Lupin, Money Heist, and Edward Berger’s Oscar-winning All Quiet on the Western Front, the commission’s May report showed the European film industry was punching below its weight on Netflix and other streaming platforms.

Across the EU, British films and shows were almost as prominently displayed on streaming platforms’ catalogues as those from the EU27 combined, once “national” films were excluded. British productions on average took up 9% of the large streaming platforms, almost a third of the quota for European works.

The report also noted that most of the British films in the top 100 were actually British-American co-productions.

The report cited independent research commissioned in 2022 and 2023 that found that the most popular British series across Europe by share of viewing time were Peaky Blinders, Sex Education, Downton Abbey, The Crown and The Last Kingdom.

A separate 2022 study, by the Council of Europe’s Audiovisual Observatory, showed that British films and shows drew as much as 30% of streamers’ investment in original European content that year, with Germany and France lagging behind in their ability to capture funding.

“The European audiovisual industry has been in decline for decades, but the emergence of video-on-demand platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime has exacerbated the situation and increased the share of American films and series”, said Emmanuel Maurel, a French Socialist MEP.

While Maurel did not explicitly call for Britain to be excluded from the quota, he said the criteria for British-American co-productions needed to be tightened. “British works account for one-third of the 30% quota in the platforms’ catalogues,” he said. “A problem worsened by the fact that the majority of British productions are American co-productions.”