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Creative Europe will help the EU to combat the Crisis

Submitted by on 12 Jul 2012 – 12:20

Androulla VassiliouBy Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth

Europe is facing unprecedented challenges that cannot be tackled by Member States alone. I firmly believe that if the European Commission and Member States work together, following a steady course based on a clear and shared strategic vision, we will be able to create a better future for both ourselves and the next generation.

Tomorrow’s progress depends on the efforts made today. Our ambition is for Europe to be the most culturally vibrant and successful continent possible. We can be proud that the large variety of organisations within our cultural and creative sectors – cinema industry, architecture, publishing, cultural heritage and so on – play a major role in the European economy. Today, they account for up to 4.5% of the EU’s GDP and more than 8.5 million jobs. The intrinsic and social value of culture is just as important. It is the other side of the same coin.

However, the reality is that only a fraction of the European Union’s 500 million citizens get the chance to appreciate cultural works from other European countries. This is a missed opportunity because there are major cultural, social and economic benefits waiting to be seized. Cultural, because people are missing out on a wealth of inspirational cultural treasures; social, because cultural works can be powerful conveyors of values and meanings and, by fostering mutual understanding, they make a significant contribution to intercultural dialogue; and finally economic benefits, because by extending access to European works, we could be creating new revenue streams that could benefit the sector and make it even stronger.

As Europeans we should look at our cultural sector as a reservoir of hope, ideas and new economic growth that can lead us out of the crisis. The example of urban regeneration that took place in Bilbao around the Guggenheim museum is well known, but around Europe the economy of many other cities and regions has experienced a similar boost. European Capitals of Culture, such as Lille, Liverpool or Essen, have successfully invested in culture to create jobs, renew their social fabric and to transform their image; some Capitals have estimated that each euro invested generated up to an extra 10 euro in return from other public and private sources.

There are two more reasons why we should cherish and support the arts and culture even, and especially, in times of crisis. History shows how economic crisis can pave the way to extremism and radicalisation, which in the worst cases has led to the collapse of democracy. In those circumstances, artists’ voices represented the collective conscience and calls for freedom. It is no surprise that dictatorial regimes fear and persecute artists.

And finally we should not forget that culture is an investment in our long-term future. The work of our artists will represent us in the centuries to come.

These different aspects of culture can and must go hand-in-hand and this is fully recognised in the European Commission’s proposed ‘Creative Europe’ funding programme. ‘Creative Europe’ is a carefully thought through programme, which seeks to balance the needs of the cultural and creative sectors where they require European solutions, and the wishes of 27 very different Member States. Planned to start in 2014, ‘Creative Europe’ brings together the current Culture and MEDIA (cinema) programmes, while maintaining their distinct identities.

Its first aim is to safeguard and promote European cultural and linguistic diversity. It also seeks to strengthen the cultural and creative sector to help it contribute to the Europe 2020 strategy for jobs and growth. A key focus of the programme is to foster audience development to extend access to the arts and to encourage cultural institutions to maximize their educational work vis-à-vis their audiences. It is about creating new audiences – for example the young and disadvantaged – but also about developing existing audiences, including helping them understand and appreciate more complex works.

The world has changed dramatically since we designed our existing programmes; the challenges are different, so ‘business as usual’ is not an option. We have to look honestly and critically at what the real challenges facing these sectors are today, not ten years ago, and agree on where a European programme can bring the most added value. Indeed, culture is an area of strong subsidiarity; it is not our job to replace the role of national governments or national funding, but to identify where we can bring complementary support.

We have identified four main challenges that we believe need to be tackled today through European funding.

The first is that Europe is a varied continent, in that when we speak of cultural works we do not have a genuine European cultural ‘single space’. We are instead confronted with a multitude of cultures and linguistic areas. This restricts the mobility of artists, cultural professionals and the circulation of their works. The second challenge is that globalisation and the digital shift are having a deep impact on the arts. They are changing how art is made, distributed, accessed, consumed and monetized. Furthermore, it is changing how audiences want to interact with the arts and how cultural institutions engage with their audiences. The third challenge is the chronic shortage of diversified sources of finance. Due to a lack of knowledge about the cultural sector, the financial institutions tend to view lending to it as risky. Finally, we lack comparable data on a European scale which would enable us to fine-tune our policies and support.

It is because we are convinced that the arts have so much to offer for us as individuals, our societies and our economies, that the Commission has proposed a 37% increase on current levels of support. However, negotiations are far from over. We now count on the backing of stakeholders, the Member States and the European Parliament to have our proposal approved.