Spain has pledged to reduce its value added tax (VAT) on record music to 4% from 16%, new culture minister Carmen Calvo said during a media gathering Friday in Madrid.

Spain has pledged to reduce its value added tax (VAT) on record music to 4% from 16%, new culture minister Carmen Calvo said during a media gathering Friday in Madrid.

Spain's pledge was in its program for the March general elections that brought the PSOE socialist party to power. It is one of the boldest statements yet by an EU government to have music perceived as "culture".

At present, however, no single EU member state can unilaterally reduce the VAT on cultural goods. Changes to the EU's VAT rates must be agreed upon unanimously by the territory's member states, which expands to 25 from 15 on Saturday.

Governments from France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy and Portugal have made similar calls in the recent past.

"The measure will help citizens acquire cultural goods," said Calvo. She added that sales tax on books would be reduced from 4% to a "symbolic 1%" in the 2005 national budget, yet to be drawn up.

The Spanish government's stance has been applauded by the recorded music industry. "This is very welcome news," says Antonio Guisasola, president of labels' body AFYVE, an affiliate of the IFPI.

"It will mean that a €15 ($18) CD will cost €2.40 ($2.88)," says Guisasola. "This won't stop street piracy [of illegal CD sales], but it will mean legitimate CD purchasers buying more."

A spokesperson for authors' society SGAE adds: "This news makes us very happy, but it could be wishful thinking. We understand this is a very complex legal issue and may not depend on the culture minister in Spain. It's a European Union decision."

Across the European Union, VAT on music and video is currently set at the general rate of 15%-25%; other cultural goods, such as books and theater tickets, benefit from rates as low as zero.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) has long called for music to be taxed at the same culture level as literature and books. The trade body immediately welcomed the Spanish government's decision to join the EU campaign for a cut in VAT on music.

"With Spain coming out openly in support of a reduced VAT rate on sound recordings, it gives us another big country backing the music sector's campaign," says Brussels-based IFPI European regional director Frances Moore. "This underlines again the value of the campaign that we have been waging for a number of years. It is only fair that sound recordings should benefit from the same reduced rates as other cultural goods."