New Culture Commissioner gets confirmed as the EU braces for the last leg of the mandate

September 19, 2023, 6:21 am

C’est la rentrée! In Brussels, and especially around the European institutions, it is that time of the year again, when everyone is back at their desks and the policy agenda gets revamped by strategic talks and ticking clocks ahead of approaching deadlines. For culture aficionados, however, this time of year also entails becoming familiar with the new faces who will be dealing with the portfolio.

On 12 September, with 522 votes in favour, 27 against and 51 abstained, the plenary of the European Parliament confirmed Bulgaria’s Iliana Ivanova as the new Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education, and Youth. Ivanova replaced her fellow national Mariya Gabriel, who stepped down in the spring to become the country’s new Foreign Affairs Minister (and prospective Prime Minister, under a coalition’s agreement). A former Member of the European Parliament and, until now, of the European Court of Auditors, Ivanova demonstrated her experience among the EU circles during a three-hour interview held by MEPs during a joint meeting of the Research and Innovation (ITRE) and Culture and Education (CULT) committees of the European Parliament on 5 September. Here you can find the mission letter sent by EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The letter contains very little new material regarding cultural responsibilities, including preservation of heritage, promotion of creative industries, and cultural cooperation with third countries.

With around one year to go before a new Commission is nominated following the 6-9 June 2024 European elections, however, much of the hearing with Ivanova focused on current affairs and research cooperation, in the wake of the UK rejoining Horizon Europe and budget issues. In cultural matters, the proposed cut by 40 million euros to the 2024 budget of Creative Europe, put forward by the Council of the EU, featured prominently in the debate, with Ivanova openly criticising these “unjustified cuts.” Creative Europe, she added, would instead “require more funding, rather than budget reductions,” as we “face oversubscription to its calls, which is a sign of both success and insufficient funding.” Culture Action Europe has recently coordinated a joint action with more than 70 other cultural networks and organisations, calling on EU Member States to oppose the cuts. 

Speaking of major changes in the Commission’s hierarchy, DG EAC (Education and Culture) not only gets a new Commissioner, but also a new Director-General, with Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen, former Head of the Commission’s Communication department. The former Director-General, Themis Christophidou, has moved to the helm of the Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy (DG REGIO).

The “back to school” September vibes in the EU Bubble also tie into an iconic acronym:  SOTEU, or the annual State of the European Union address. The SOTEU, delivered by the President of the European Commission, takes stock of developments over the past 12 months and outlines policy priorities for the upcoming year. Leading up to this year’s address, CAE worked alongside 43 independent European networks of civil society organisations to contribute to the “Civil Society State of the Union Report,” which presents civil society’s vision and recommendations for a more democratic and socially and environmentally just EU. 

Von der Leyen delivered her last SOTEU speech for the current legislative term on 13 September in Strasbourg, without confirming whether she intends to run to seek another term. Von der Leyen also refrained from elaborating on the New European Bauhaus, a project that she first outlined in her 2020 SOTEU, designed to bring the Green Deal closer to the people through culture, architecture and design, and neglected to announce any cultural initiatives, instead reiterating a message that conflated Europe’s cultural diversity and biological diversity. 

When speaking of the consequences of the Russian invasion against Ukraine, however, the Commission President paused to pay tribute to Victoria Amelina, “one of the great young writers of her generation and a tireless activist for justice,” recalling the serious impact of the invasion on the lively Ukrainian cultural community. Amelina was killed by a Russian ballistic missile in the presence of several colleagues– among them, Colombian writer Héctor Abad Faciolince, who created the campaign “Aguanta, Ucrania – Resist, Ukraine” and attended this year’s SOTEU as the guest of honour.

With the EU political debate now focused on the upcoming European Parliamentary elections, make sure to follow the updates of our dedicated project Pop The Vote, which recently opened a public call for community ‘Changemakers’ under 30!

Photo: © European Union, 2023
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