Comment

The case for a cultural European Union

Philippe Kern / Feb 2020

Image: Shutterstock

 

Whilst it seems that culture has taken a residual role in EU policy the truth is that the European Union has progressively been building a cultural policy for the last 40 years through its competence to negotiate international trade agreements, to harmonise legislation with a view to build a Single Market or to implement competition law. Furthermore, since 2007, armed with a better understanding of the importance of the economy of culture in Europe, the EU’s industrial, regional, digital and external policies have considerably expanded EU’s intervention in the field of culture.

Can we actually talk about a EU cultural policy? Certainly not under the current circumstances of “agenda” settings (rather than policy) without clear political ambitions to develop cohesion and empathy. However, this could change for the better if you believe that the political project of the EU is in the making - and that cultural policy will play its part in defining a continent capable of making the most of its cultural resources and diversity to promote freedom of expression, tolerance to achieve “un vouloir vivre ensemble” and foster solidarity amongst Europeans.

Culture as a EU subsidiary competence

The European Union acquired subsidiary competence in the field of culture in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty. However independently of a specific power, the requirement to implement EU rules and international circumstance led the EU to regulate the cultural sector :

  • The multilateral trade negotiations on a General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) in the 1980s.
  • The requirement to harmonise legislation on broadcasting and copyright/authors’ rights with a view to implement a single market for cultural products and services.  

As a result, 80% of rules affecting the cultural and creative sectors (CCS) are decided upon by Member States in Brussels and Strasbourg (wide ranging rules covering reduced VAT rates for cultural goods and services, copyright protection, competition, internal market rules on free movement and international trade agreements).

Whilst EU intervention from a regulatory point of view has, on balance, a very positive effect on the CCS, it has failed to help the industries’ capacity to compete globally. It has not been able to sufficiently support the global growth and market access of Europe’s CCS as well as address market fragmentation specifics to cultural markets obeying to linguistic and local singularities.  

The new drivers of EU cultural policy

EU’s cohesion policy, industrial and digital agenda as well as external ambitions all add to the traditional EU cultural programme. Culture is everywhere whilst a EU cultural policy is yet to be defined.

The adoption of the Lisbon Treaty on the European Union in 2007, whilst confirming the provisions set out in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, added that the respect of cultural and linguistic diversity is amongst the main objectives of the EU, together with safeguarding and enhancing cultural heritage (Article 3 Treaty on European Union and Article 167 of the TFEU (former article 151).

A decisive push for the cultural sector came from the cohesion policy which benefitted countries and regions accessing the second largest budget of the European Union, the EU Structural Fund. The EU budget implemented via the European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF) enabled important cultural investment notably in heritage preservation, tourism and increasingly culture and creative industries. As from 2014 more than 100 countries and regions in Europe have included the CCS in their smart specialization strategies’ pre-condition to access EU Regional Development Funds.

Pursuing the objective of industrial competitiveness, the European Commission in tandem with the European Investment Fund (EIF), launched a EU CCS Guarantee Facility with € 220 million to address CCS funding gaps estimated at €8 billion a year in 2016. The scheme is now implemented by financial intermediaries (usually private banks) in a dozen European countries.

EU cultural policy remains a subsidiary matter only for the blind or the ignorant. With time it is evident that an increasing number of EU policies are related to the implementation of cultural policy objectives, whilst the EU has yet to articulate such a specific policy. As a result effective cultural policy actions are constrained by a lack of political vision, coordination, transparency and its corollary poor human and financial resources.

European institutions as well as European policy makers are still failing to fully grasp the urge of considering culture to address Europe’s challenges, notably citizens’ absence of emotional links with the European project which in turn has an impact on solidarity, a sense of belonging and mutual understanding. The Europe which promotes free circulation of people, a common currency, a joint defense and external policy requires a second cultural leg spelling out the justification of a common approach in the eyes of citizens. The latter need to feel that they are part of a community sharing a past and a destiny. The definition of a EU cultural policy would contribute to addressing Europe’s identity crisis, its digital sovereignty and build solidarity.

 

The full article is available on https://keanet.eu/for-a-cultural-european-union/

 

Philippe Kern

Philippe Kern

February 2020

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