Ministers back EU culture plan, but doubts remain
By Benjamin Fox
Ambitious plans to create the EU's largest ever cultural funding programme are a step closer to reality after ministers offered broad support for the European Commission's Creative Europe programme at a meeting in Brussels on Thursday (10th May).
The commission's "Creative Europe" proposal, published in November 2011, would see €1.8 billion from the EU budget allocated for visual and performing arts, film, music, literature and architecture in the EU's next multi-annual financial framework from 2014 to 2020.
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Brussels estimates that up to 300,000 artists would receive funding if EU countries approve the scheme.
Speaking at a press conference following the meeting, culture commissioner Androulla Vassiliou said that ministers had agreed "a balanced compromise text" adding that the summit amounted to "a great morning for culture."
Denmark's culture minister, Uffe Elbaek, who is seeking to broker a deal before the end of Denmark's EU presidency, said that he is "confident that with the Council's position and the discussions today we have paved the way for further discussions on the programme proposal."
However, ministers were unable to reach agreement on the size of the programme's budget and on the commission's proposed loan guarantee scheme for small businesses operating in the "culture sector."
A number of governments are also opposed to the commission's plan to increase the EU budget for cultural spending by 37 percent at a time when most member states are cutting national arts budgets.
The German, Dutch and UK ministers led opposition to the proposed spending hike and loan facility. UK culture minister Ed Vaizey expressed his "concerns about whether it would be value for money and whether it should be part of the existing budget, rather than additional expenditure."
The creation of a new loan guarantee facility is one of the centre-pieces of the commission proposal, with the EU executive planning to provide €210 million to a special fund, which would be able to leverage up to €1 billion to small and medium sized businesses in the sector.
There is also set to be disagreement between ministers and MEPs in the European Parliament on whether to merge the EU's existing media and culture programmes into one lump.
While a majority backed a merger at the Council meeting, Italian centre-left MEP Sylvia Costa, who will pilot the legislation in the European Parliament, is hoping to keep them separate.
At a public debate held by the parliament's culture committee in April, Costa commented that the proposal to merge the culture and media programmes would "create more confusion than positive results." She called on MEPs to refine the proposal to establish "separate programmes for the cultural industries, the media industries and the sector between the two."
Meanwhile, Culture Action Europe, a pan-EU campaign group representing more than 80,000 cultural organisations, urged ministers to back the plan.
A statement and petition presented to Denamrk's Elbaek urged ministers to "stand strong with the Creative Europe proposal and support the budget increase as an investment in our future.”
Economic studies indicate that the creative sector is worth around 4.5 percent of the EU's GDP and employs 3.8 percent of the bloc's workforce.