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Culture & the European Union - Frequently asked questions

10 May 2007
by eub2 -- last modified 10 May 2007

On 10 May 2007, the European Commission adopted a Communication entitled "A European agenda for culture in a globalizing world". Whilst the Communication is not the first in the field of culture, this is the first time the Commission has proposed a common European strategy for culture in the EU.


1 - What is the competence of the EU in the cultural area?

EU action in the field of culture is based on Article 151 of the Treaty.

Member States retain the main responsibility in the field of culture. Moreover, in many countries, culture is largely dealt with at regional or local levels. In full respect of the principle of subsidiarity, action taken at EU level in this field shall support and supplement the actions of the Member States (Art. 151(2)), foster cooperation with third countries (Art. 151(3)), and take cultural aspects into account in other EU programmes and policies (151(4)) in order to simultaneously preserve cultural diversity and bring common heritage to the fore.

The common European agenda for culture builds on this article around the following objectives: promotion of cultural diversity and inter-cultural dialogue, promotion of culture as a catalyst for creativity in the framework of the Lisbon Strategy, as well as promotion of culture as a vital element in the EU's international relations.

2 – Does the common strategy for culture challenge the cultural exception in the Treaty?

No. The common strategy for culture is based on the Open Method of Coordination (OMC), which is an intergovernmental framework for cooperation. Hence it does not challenge the cultural exception in the Treaty or the principle of subsidiarity in the field of culture. Indeed, cultural diversity is paramount for the common strategy for culture. The EU’s recent ratification of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions reflects this.

3 – What are the EU's actions in the field of culture?

The EU already contributes greatly to promoting cultural activities in Europe through various programmes and policies. The Culture programme, although limited in scope, has already made an important contribution to support cultural cooperation. Activities supported by this programme include festivals, master classes, exhibitions, new productions, tours, translations and conferences intended for artists, cultural operators, as well as for a broader audience, in particular young people and those who are socially or economically disadvantaged. Most of the supported projects include a multimedia dimension, in particular via the creation of Internet sites and discussion forums.

The new Culture 2007 Programme builds upon these achievements aiming at enhancing the cultural area common to Europeans through the development of cultural cooperation between the creators, cultural players and cultural institutions. Its total budget for 2007-2013 is EUR 400 million.

Many other EU programmes have a huge positive impact on culture such as Europe for Citizens, Lifelong Learning, Youth in Action, the Media programme, the Structural Funds, etc. Culture is also recognized as an important part of EU cooperation programmes with third countries.

In its regulatory action, the EU fosters balance between different legitimate public policy objectives, including the promotion of cultural diversity.

The staff working paper "Inventory of Community actions in the field of culture" accompanying the Communication gives an overview of these policies and programmes with links to relevant websites where further information can be obtained.

4 - What are the objectives of this Communication?

This Communication acknowledges the fundamental role of culture in our societies and proposes new dialogue and cooperation methods to strengthen its voice and contribution in the European Project.

The Communication is based on an extensive consultation process, which has enabled the European Commission to identify three major objectives to be shared by the European Institutions (including the Commission), Member States and the cultural world, and to form part of an agenda for culture:

  • Promotion of cultural diversity and inter-cultural dialogue,
  • Promotion of culture as a catalyst for creativity in the framework of the Lisbon Strategy,
  • Promotion of culture as a vital element in the Union's international relations.

The idea is for these objectives to be shared widely in order to foster a strong convergence of efforts at all levels resulting in a stronger European added value. Thus the Commission seeks to establish new partnerships and methods for cooperation with the different stakeholders. The Communication proposes that Member States endorse these objectives and implement them in full respect of their autonomy. A process of policy and best practice exchanges between Member States, complemented by regular reporting is proposed in order to help ensure dynamism and the delivery of results.

This kind of non-binding, intergovernmental framework for concerted action is known as the Open Method of Coordination (OMC).

5 - How will the sector be associated with this process?

One of the objectives of this Communication is to engage in a closer partnership and better structured dialogue with the world of culture.

This sector is extremely diverse, ranging from individual artists, cultural institutions and non-profit sector to cultural and creative industries. Thus the Commission suggests undertaking a mapping of the sector and proposes to set up a "Cultural Forum" to better structure the dialogue with stakeholders. Other initiatives will be explored to encourage the expression of individual artists and intellectuals at European level.

6 – What is the Open Method of Coordination and should it be used in the field of culture?

In full respect of the principle of subsidiary and taking into account the characteristics of the cultural sector, the Commission proposes a "light" Open Method of Coordination in the field of culture. The method is a non-binding, intergovernmental framework for policy exchange and concerted action.

The introduction of the OMC in the field of culture, bringing together strengths and experiences at all levels, responds to the considerable expectations expressed by the cultural sector during the consultation process preceding this communication. During this process, the cultural and creative sectors expressed their expectation that the EU take a step forward and pass from words to action in the field of culture.

Today the OMC, which is paramount to the Lisbon strategy, already exists in other fields such as for example education, social protection and youth.

The OMC consists of a dynamic process of regular reporting and best practice exchanges between Member States. Hence every two years, the Commission and each Member State, will jointly assess efforts made to achieve the outlined objectives.

The OMC also corresponds to a need expressed by Member States. Indeed, Member States have already explored new forms of flexible cooperation in order to work together more closely in the pursuit of shared objectives and adopted a multi-annual work plan for culture for the period 2005-7. The OMC builds on these developments and takes them one step further.

7 - What is the impact of culture on the EU's economy and its contribution to the Lisbon Strategy?

In 2006 the European Commission commissioned a major study on the economic impact of cultural and creative industries in Europe. This study documents for the first time the economic potential of the cultural and creative sectors, in particular in the framework of the Lisbon strategy.

In 2003 the sectors accounted for 2.3 % of GDP, with an annual turnover of EUR 654 billion (compared to chemicals, rubber and plastic products (2.3 % of GDP) real estate (2.1 % of GDP), food, beverage and tobacco (1.9 % of GDP).

Moreover, cultural and creative industries employ at least 5.8 million people, 3.1% of total EU25 population.

In addition to this direct contribution, the cultural and creative sectors have indirect impacts on the European socio-economic environment and the achievement of the Lisbon strategy.

The cultural and creative sectors foster creativity and contribute to innovation in other sectors of the economy. They are crucial for the further development of ICTs, the flagship industry of the Lisbon strategy, as they provide content for digital devices and networks. They also act as a multiplier in local development as they constitute a powerful catalyst for attracting tourists, are of strategic importance for growth and employment in cities and regions and have significant social impacts at local level in terms of social regeneration and social cohesion.

This contribution of the European cultural and creative sectors is gaining recognition in the Lisbon strategy. Indeed these sectors are now seen as key elements for Europe's economic revival. This was recognised in the conclusions of the European Council on 9 March 2007, which drew particular attention to the importance of these cultural and creative sectors, "in view of their role as drivers of growth, job creation and innovation. Particular attention should be given to stimulating the potential of SME's, including in the cultural and creative sectors". It shows that the EU is aiming to develop a real strategy for a Creative Europe in the context of the Lisbon strategy.

Culture can also be a tool for improving the social bonds and the social skills within our societies. The challenge is to better exploit the role of culture as a 'social regulator'. Indeed, culture can contribute to better social interactions within our societies. This communication proposes new working methods for Member States to better explore and foster this overall potential.

8 – Does the EU seek to reduce culture to a mere economic issue?

Whilst the European Commission seeks to demonstrate the economic impact and potential of the cultural and creative industries in Europe, and hence its importance for the EU’s ability to achieve its Lisbon objectives, this strategy must not be seen as being at the expense of the inherent particularity of culture.

On the contrary. The common European strategy for culture promotes diversity, and whilst its objectives are compatible with the Lisbon strategy, they may also be seen as important drivers for other EU policy strategies, such as the Gothenburg strategy for sustainable development. Indeed, sustainability, creativity and culture are highly intertwined. The development of creative clusters in European cities such as London and Berlin serve as examples of the potential the cultural and creative sectors hold for generating sustainable development in urban areas with difficulties.

9 – What is the role of culture in its relations with  third countries?

Culture, diversity and inter-cultural dialogue have become major challenges for a global order based on peace, mutual understanding and respect for shared values.

The rapid entry into force of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, to which Europe contributed greatly, illustrates the new role of cultural diversity at international level.

As parties of this Convention, the Community and its Member States have committed themselves to developing a new and more pro-active role for culture in the context of international relations, to integrate culture as a vital element of the EU's relations with partner countries and regions and to systematically integrate culture in development programmes and projects.

As part of this commitment and in order to support specific actions in ACP countries, the European Commission is proposing to create an EU-ACP Cultural Fund as a joint European contribution to supporting the distribution and in some cases the production of ACP cultural goods. This Fund will encourage the emergence of local markets and industries, and will also increase the access of ACP cultural goods to European markets. The European Commission proposes to allocate a Community contribution to the fund of about EUR 30 million for the period 2007 – 2013, and invites Member States to contribute to the fund with additional funding.

Communication on a European agenda for culture in a globalizing world

Source: European Commission