24th Oct 2016


EU culture budget: small and likely to get smaller

  • The EU spends less on culture than Estonia does (Photo: wikipedia)

When EU leaders meet in Brussels in November for what is expected to be long round of hard negotiations on the bloc’s new seven-year budget, culture will not be on everyone’s mind.

Allowed only “to support, coordinate or supplement” the policies of its member states, the EU today spends little more than 0.1 percent of what it has on subsidies for the arts - some €170 million per year.

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It is less than what Estonia spends on culture. Germany alone spends €9 billion per year. Even Spain, who over the last five years has cut its culture budget in half, spends almost five times as much.

But even if in the grand scheme of things EU culture money may not amount to much, it does make a difference, experts say, since it goes beyond national borders.

"More or less whatever is European circulation of works of art and professionals [...] is largely depending on the EU policy," Luca Bergamo, secretary-general of Culture Action Europe, a network of cultural associations in Europe, told EUobserver.

"It plays an essential role," he added.

The European Commission, for its part, agrees.

“[The EU budget for culture] focuses on very specific projects where the EU added value is clear, like transnational cooperation [or] projects promoting cultural and linguistic diversity,” Dennis Abbott, EU culture spokesperson, told EUobserver.

“We're not replacing or duplicating work by individual member states,” he added.

Cultural organisations recently welcomed a proposal to increase the money available by more than half.

If approved next month, the EU’s culture budget will jump from less than €1.2 billion for 2007-2013 to more than €1.8 for 2014-2020.

“It’s an important sign,” Bergamo said.

He noted that over the last couple of years, national governments have been cutting culture subsidies in an effort to rein in debts and deficits.

“It’s been a trend in the whole of Europe,” he said.

A rise in EU money may offset some of that pain.

The commission says more money will not only help to make more films or translate more books, it will also boost a sector in the economy with “impressive growth potential.”

It says that over the first half of the last decade, employment in the culture sector in Europe grew by an average of 3.5 percent, compared with only one percent in general.

Today, the sector is said to employ some 8.5 million people in the EU, or 3.8 percent of its total workforce. It contributes some 4.5 percent to the union’s GDP.

Yet for all its importance and relative smallness, the proposed €1.8 billion is unlikely to emerge unscathed.

As with all regular law proposals, both MEPs and member states have to agree.

MEPs have welcomed the proposed increase. But member states are under pressure to spend as little as possible. They are expected to bring down the new budget, which as proposed is slightly higher than before.

“What I can say at this stage it that we will have cuts across the board. At present nobody can be more specific,” said Nikos Christodoulides, spokesperson for Cyprus which holds the rotating EU presidency and will chair the negotiations.

For her part, Doris Pack, centre-right German MEP and chair of the culture committee in the European Parliament, is annoyed by such indiscriminate cutting.

“It is ridiculous to make such a mess from such a small programme. I think it should survive,” she said.

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