A European Status of the artist has never been so close to becoming a reality. On 24 October, the committee on Culture and Education (CULT) and the committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) of the European Parliament adopted by 43 votes to five and three abstentions the joint draft legislative initiative report by MEPs Domènec Ruiz Devesa (S&D, Spain) and Antonius Manders (EPP, The Netherlands). For the first time ever, the Parliament is urging the European Commission to create a legal EU Framework to improve the social and professional conditions in the cultural and creative sectors with a mix of both legislative and non-legislative actions.
In the report, MEPs acknowledge that the work in the cultural field is often characterised by high cross-border mobility, while at the same time, there is no easy portability of social security entitlements, with gaps between national social systems, national definitions of artists, among other rules, creating unfair conditions. The proposed Framework would include: 1) a directive on decent working conditions for workers in the cultural and creative field, and the correct determination of their employment status; 2) a European platform to improve the exchange of best practices and mutual understanding among Member States to improve working and social security conditions with the involvement of social partner; 3) the adaptation of EU programmes funding artists and cultural workers to make sure they promote fair practices, through a form of “social conditionality”.
Among other issues, the report touches upon the phenomenon of bogus self-employment, unpaid or underpaid work, coercive buy-out contracts, and challenges deriving from the new frontier of digital technologies, such as generative AI.
Unlike Members of National Parliaments, MEPs are not in the position to formally initiate legislation, which remains a sole prerogative of the Commission. The fact that the European Parliament is now calling for a directive – the maximum they can do, in the current institutional architecture – is a momentous turning point, which has been widely anticipated by the European cultural ecosystem and long advocated by Culture Action Europe and its members. Directives are binding acts setting out a goal which all 27 EU countries must achieve through domestic legislation. Then, it is up to the individual countries to devise their own laws to reach these goals.
In 2021, CAE developed a background analysis at the request of the European Parliament, proposing among the policy recommendations the adoption of a directive as an effective tool to tackle the major profiles linked to a European status of the artist. At the same time, benchmarking existing policies at a national level, including the definition of cultural workers, can benefit from the action agreed upon as part of the current Council Work Plan for Culture 2023-2026, whereby an online platform, which is still to be framed, has been proposed “to provide information about artists’ and cultural and creative professionals’ working conditions in the EU Member States.”
The Parliament’s legislative report (which is being consolidated and translated into all EU official languages) will now need to be confirmed in a vote by the plenary of the EU Chamber, on the week of 20-24 November in Strasbourg. After that, the Commission will have three months to reply to the request by the Parliament by adopting a specific communication stating whether (and how) they intend to follow up on the Parliament’s requests. Until now, the EU’s executive has always justified not to take any specific actions on the topic of working conditions in the cultural and creative sectors, because of the countries’ sole responsibility on the matter. With the European elections of 6-9 June 2024 around the corner and no flagship policy initiative relevant for culture foreseen in the months to come, however, the work towards such a Framework is to stay high on the political agenda, making sure that it is taken in charge by the next European Commission with the aim to make some progress.
The call for an EU Framework on the working conditions of artists and cultural workers, spearheaded by Culture Action Europe and its members as a key priority in the past few years, is part of the Cultural Deal for Europe campaign.
While a lot of work remains to be done, the topic has now become a permanent feature in the EU’s cultural politics debate and hopefully will already bear some fruit in the next political cycle. Those who have been following the topic of the working conditions of artists and cultural workers for the past few years might be pleasantly surprised, for once. Things have been set in motion in Brussels’ European neighbourhood for real. This is news in itself after years of no action and cautious talks until the outbreak of the pandemic when calls by the wider EU cultural ecosystem to act to improve working conditions in the cultural field became more prominent. Next in line, is the Council of the EU, where ministers from national governments sit, to hold a policy debate on 23-24 November, as part of the upcoming Culture Affairs Council “on the need to improve the working, social security and tax conditions of artists through the promotion of a proposed European Status of the artist and of the cultural worker.”