After three and a half years in the job, Mariya Gabriel stepped down on Monday 15 May from her post as European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education, and Youth, as she received the institutional mandate to form a government in her home country, Bulgaria. A key figure in the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), Gabriel will seek confidence as Bulgaria’s next Prime Minister, hoping to break a political deadlock after five consecutive elections in two years failed to produce a stable coalition.
Back in 2019, at the beginning of the 9th EU legislative term, when Mariya Gabriel was designated by Ursula von der Leyen to be part of the Commission, her portfolio was in the spotlight as it failed to mention Culture (as well as Education and Research) next to Innovation and Youth. The successful campaign to bring back Culture in her job title was spearheaded by Culture Action Europe, together with partners from the wider cultural ecosystem. Such a legacy must not be missed now, that Gabriel will have to be replaced as a member of the College of Commissioners.
Having for the first time the link between culture, on the one hand, and research and innovation, on the other, such unity and visibility is an important feature to reinforce also in the next portfolio. As Commissioner, Mariya Gabriel herself championed more funding opportunities for culture under Horizon Europe, the EU’s research envelope, recognising the direct link between culture and knowledge production. While much still needs to be done to give full recognition to artistic research practices in the EU’s funding frameworks, this transition is an opportunity to keep the momentum and consolidate the (vast) portfolio.
The Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the “Promotion of our European Way of Life” Margaritis Schinas will be in charge of Culture (as well as Education and Youth), a task he is fulfilling already on 15-16 May during the meetings of ministers in the EYCS Council (Education, Youth, Culture, and Sport), which is set to discuss, among other things, Conclusions on the topic of displaced artists and artists at risk. Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition chief, will be temporarily responsible for Innovation and Research.
Once a new government is in place, Bulgaria will now have to nominate a new Commissioner: rumours in Brussels have it that Eva Maydell, a staunch EU federalist and a Member of the European Parliament hailing from the same ranks as prospective PM Mariya Gabriel, will be the pick.