EUROPE. On the 18th of November the European Cultural Foundation, Culture Action Europe, and Europa Nostra co-hosted a public online debate on European cultural policies. The pivotal role culture plays in Europe’s economic and social recovery was this year’s edition’s main focus. The intent is to create a Cultural Deal for Europe.
The over 300 participants included European politicians, cultural institutions, and foundations. They raised several major points over a two-hour debate. For example, the importance of the largest EU budget so far negotiated. Also, the worrying block of Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia concerning the rule of law. The foreseeable collapse of the cultural and creative sector within the next months, that is, until the European funds arrive. Also, the need to create partnerships between the public, private, and philanthropic sectors to support culture. And finally, the bottom-up approach this recovery requires.
Economic impact of the cultural sector in the EU
COVID-19 has exacerbated already existing issues, the problems addressed are not new. Precarity, uncertainty, lack of an artist’s status, jeopardize European cultural production. In 2019, 7.4 million people worked in the cultural sector across the EU-27. This amounts to 3.7 % of all employment. Self-employment is so spread that it doubles the amount of self-employment in other economic sectors. These people are the most vulnerable during a crisis since their activity is not protected. For instance, they cannot access the support schemes already in place across Europe. Besides, funding to culture is the first to go off national and regional budgets at the first sign of recession.
And this is surprising considering 4.4% of total EU-27 GDP comes from the cultural and creative sector. According to statistics, culture directly enriches the EU’s economy. But it also helps us own, as European citizens, a sense of belonging to shared values.
A strategic opportunity to participate in rethinking Europe’s future
In fact, speakers claim this is a strategic opportunity to design a long-run approach to Culture within Europe. Firstly, to sustain Europe’s economic recovery. And secondly, to address the underlying crisis hindering Europe’s project: the rise of nationalism and polarisation. As president Sassoli underlined in this video, “art helps us live together.”
In order to live together though, we must learn to listen and to relate to each other. Culture, our fundamental right to expression, helps build bridges. It also offers resources and platforms to creative thinkers and visionaries. To create the post-COVID-19 Europe citizens would like to live in, we need creativity. As MEP Sabine Verheyen, Chair CULT Committee at the European Parliament, put it: “(the cultural) sector is core to innovation and recovery because we need to get creative.”
Tere Badia Secretary-General at Culture Action Europe added to this that “holistic strategies need culture and creativity to face the environmental and economical challenges. We must go beyond the sectorial perspective to bring culture into multidisciplinary debates to face contemporary challenges. New ideas for the future of Europe are needed, like the green deal (…) we propose a Cultural Deal for Europe. This is an umbrella strategy to give a leading role to culture by putting it at the center.”
A Cultural Deal at the center of Europe’s recovery
And that center means to politically link culture to the green deal and digital transformation initiatives. It also addresses the “structural lack of awareness about the reality of the sector and its potential. (…) we need consistent studies on the influence of culture in wellbeing and sustainability.” Tere adds for example.
The importance of philanthropy
Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education, and Youth considers it crucial to engage philanthropy in the funding of European culture, as it happens in the United States model. “Culture is at the center of our lives. (We need to) mobilize, unify, to make sure the cultural and creative sector can benefit from all financial support.”
Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailovic, Secretary-General at Europa Nostra underlined as well the creation of new alliances among sectors. She shared her optimism about the creation of the cultural deal for Europe. For example, she reminded the audience of the first-ever inclusion of culture on G20’s agenda.
Creative Europe, the only EU program specifically dedicated to supporting European cultural cooperation, has received this year a one-third increase on the previous budget. That is, €600 million for a total amount of €2.2 billion. This remains a limited short-term action though. For the long term, a new supporting model is required.
Collaboration, partnerships, and union: a citizen’s moment
The united mobilization required by the speakers not only addresses unified lobbying, but also the citizen’s engagement in the process.
As André Wilkens, Director of the European Cultural Foundation stated “this is a citizen’s moment”. And a moment that requires the participation also of the regional institutions. What remains clear from the debate is that we cannot go back to the pre-COVID-19 situation. This is a chance to create a new horizon for Europe, to build an inclusive future together.
In the following days, EU policy-makers and the European Cultural community will receive a joint statement on a Cultural Deal for Europe. Also, the entire debate will be available online: follow #CulturalDealEU.
Participants requested support for this needed initiative. If only because culture, as Spanish Culture Minister stated on the 23rd of November, “restores our self-esteem and helps us become more socially resilient.”