The third edition of the Cultural Deal for Europe Annual Policy Conversation, entitled ‘Culture is the new energy for Europe,’ took place on 28 February in Brussels, welcoming 135 participants on-site and 331 attendees online, in dialogue with three Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from different political groups and the Vice-President of the European Commission Margaritis Schinas. They all endorsed the need for a Cultural Deal for Europe, especially at a crucial time for the continent, following the Russian aggression against Ukraine and ahead of the 2024 European elections.
The event was co-organised by Culture Action Europe, the European Cultural Foundation and Europa Nostra, also in its capacity as coordinator of the European Heritage Alliance, in the framework of the joint Cultural Deal for Europe campaign they initiated together three years ago. The Annual Policy Conversation has been established as an important annual rendez-vous in the EU’s capital, bringing together Europe’s cultural ecosystem and policymakers to engage in a crucial dialogue on future-proof cultural policies for the bloc and for the continent at large.
Re-visit the day’s events and discussions here:
This year the three partner organisations took the stage at BOZAR, the Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels, to introduce a discussion on the proposals outlined in their joint statement ‘A central place for culture in Europe’s future,’ clustered around three umbrella themes (Ukraine, democracy, and sustainability). Launched in November 2020, the campaign is an ongoing call from the wider European cultural community to acknowledge the pivotal role of culture in shaping the future of our lives and, ultimately, put culture at the forefront of all EU policy (and political) discussion.
Organised in cooperation with the Cultural Creators Friendship Group (CCFG), a cross-party informal gathering of MEPs, the 2023 edition aimed at anticipating next year’s elections to call for a prominent place for culture in the political parties’ platforms and manifestos.
Lars Ebert, Secretary General of Culture Action Europe, André Wilkens, Director the European Cultural Foundation, and Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović, Secretary General of Europa Nostra, initiated the discussion, dedicating the event to the people of Ukraine. They then passed the mic to three Members of the European Parliament: Sabine Verheyen (EPP, Germany), Chair of the CULT Committee, Alexis Georgoulis (The Left, Greece) and Marcos Ros Sempere (S&D, Spain), who took part in an interactive town hall discussion moderated by Katy Lee, journalist and co-host of The Europeans Podcast.
In his keynote speech, Vice-President Schinas, whose responsibility is the “Promotion of our European Way of Life”, said : “In Europe, culture and the arts are at the heart of our core civic and social objectives. They impregnate what we stand for: democracy, freedom, tolerance, respect to what is different, belief in a project of coexistence, redressing the errors of history, and revisiting what is wrong about us and making it right.”
Answering questions on the latest developments on the EU’s agenda, he further acknowledged that improving mental health “is not an issue just for public health policies”, but rather “for all tools and instruments we have in our sectoral policies,” including culture. This dimension has been highlighted in a contribution by Culture Action Europe in view of the presentation before summer of a Comprehensive Approach to Mental Health, for which Schinas is responsible.
On the ongoing push for the creation of a European Status of the Artists, Vice-President Schinas said that “the Commission is following very closely the process” triggered by the European Parliament, which will result in a report asking for legislation on the matter. “That’s the right approach to have first the Parliament starting the work on this real issue,” Schinas declared, “so that then the Commission can come and see what options can concretely work.”
Towards a value-based and culture-driven Europe
“The Cultural Deal for Europe campaign is a platform open to everyone in the wider European cultural ecosystem to interact and engage with and to make the case for culture to be put at the heart of the policy-making in Europe,” began Lars Ebert of Culture Action Europe, recalling that the Deal is open for endorsements, and that its calls are fit to be featured in the European parties’ manifestos ahead of next year’s EU elections.
In the context of the Russian war against Ukraine and the transitions facing Europe in general, André Wilkens of the European Cultural Foundation shared that “There are many transitions in society and culture is key in all of them. You cannot address any of these big transitions in our society without culture. That is why we launched the Cultural Deal.“
“The importance and urgency of our plea for a Cultural Deal for Europe is greater than ever. We cannot achieve peace, sustainability, social inclusion, and create a dialogue with the rest of the world without culture and cultural heritage,” underlined Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović of Europa Nostra.
A sense of togetherness
Ukraine was front and centre at the debate, with both the dire conditions of artist and cultural workers and the destruction and damage to heritage sites in the spotlight. MEP Sabine Verheyen declared that “fighting for culture is fighting for keeping the identity of people intact. It is fighting for what keeps us together as a society,” commenting on the plea for a European Cultural Deal for Ukraine, included in the statement.
Much has been achieved since 2019, when Culture was missing from the title of a European Commissioner, where it has been brought back after a strong campaign from the sector. Now, the Commission argues that culture has been added into the sustainability policy equation through the New European Bauhaus initiative. Yet, MEP Alexis Georgoulis called for even greater ambition, to move from focusing solely on buildings and cities towards “bringing culture into every aspect, in order to create a mindset toward the green transition.” Looking at the future, MEP Ros Sempere added that “We want culture to prominently feature in the 2024 electoral campaign, especially the need to improve labour conditions for artists and cultural workers, and the right of access to culture for everyone, including newcomers and not just EU citizens.”
Before giving the floor to poet Amber Setta for an artistic reporting of the event, CULT Committee Chair Verheyen wrapped up the discussion with some closing remarks. “The European Union is more than a business club with legislative tools. It is something that brings people together, and it does it through cultural exchange. It is important to fight for a Cultural Deal, to implement culture in all our policies and have this as a common approach throughout the Union, because culture is what brings us forward.’’
“We need to acknowledge the importance of arts
Keeping our cultural heritage close to hearts
No war can kill the urge to stay alive
Art is filling up my lungs, breathing the atmosphere where we seek refuge
in not only countries but in political beliefs
It is the identity of our being, for my coping mechanism is beyond borders
Culture is the true sustainability of people
because if our only common language is being muted, how would we be able to communicate?”
(excerpt from live poem by Amber Setta)
The Cultural Deal for Europe is open for public endorsements. Express your support here.