Spend more, spend better: all eyes on the budget negotiations

July 14, 2020, 12:10 pm

As a crucial week for the negotiations on the EU’s long-term budget unfolds, with the heads of State and government to meet in Brussels on 17-18 July for the first time since the start of the pandemic, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen felt the need to remind that talks are not all about the Recovery Fund and its main features (grants/loans ratio, criteria for distribution, conditionality…). “Do not neglect the core Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) – our seven-year budget – over Next GenerationEU. We need them both. Next Generation EU is for the acute crisis – but the MFF is there to stay. It is the most important tool to implement our long-term goals,” – she said in the European Parliament. The rescue plan is set to front-load money in 2021-2023 to address the major fallouts of the COVID-19 crisis. 

The European Council President Charles Michel, who will have the difficult task to facilitate a compromise among the EU27 leaders, proposed on Friday a few key principles to help build the consensus. He put forward a negotiation box to narrow the major differences among the national governments that will serve as the basis for the upcoming summit. The draft proposal reduces the overall spending of the MFF for 2021-2027 by 20 million euros from 1,1 to 1,074 trillion euros (in a move – many say – to please the ‘frugal’ capitals), while keeping the Recovery Fund as in the Commission’s proposal (750 billion euros, of which 250 loans and 500 grants). 

The MFF Heading 2 “Cohesion, Resilience and Values” – which is slightly increased in comparison to the May 2020 proposal of the Commission – will provide “reinforced funding for the Creative Europe programme,” the draft of President Michel sent to the EU capitals reads, without providing much details or more precise figures. “We sincerely hope that reinforcement is substantial as our cultural and creative and media sectors desperately need more support,” CULT Chair and rapporteurs for the MFF programmes commented in a press release

As it stands now, Creative Europe accounts for  0,08% of the overall EU budget (MFF + Recovery Fund). Leading EU countries, including Germany that holds the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU since 1 July, have been vocal about the need to double funding for the only EU programme that supports and promotes European cultural cooperation. The online petition initiated by Culture Action Europe has collected so far more than 2,700 signatures from cultural professionals, artists, policy-makers and activists. 

“Culture is a necessity, not a luxury,” European Commission’s Vice-President Margaritas Schinas said last Friday echoing Culture Action Europe’s plea. On the same day when Michel presented his negotiating box, the European Parliament hosted a topical debate on the “Cultural Recovery of Europe”, acknowledging the unprecedented impact that COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown measures have had on the cultural and creative sectors. The debate will be followed by a resolution to be voted later in September. 

It is on the Member States to make the best possible use of mechanisms, such as the new cohesion funds Coronavirus Response Investment Initiatives (CRII) or the short-term work support scheme SURE, that are likely to benefit also the cultural and creative sectors,” Schinas said. 

Despite the effort, however, more EU coordination is still needed when it comes to the concrete use of these emergency funds, as Commissioner for Culture Mariya Gabriel and CULT Committee Chair Sabine Verheyen have recently underlined, by relaunching the request to earmark a certain percentage of the Recovery Fund for culture in the national implementation plans, as Culture Action Europe asked a few weeks ago in a joint statement with the European Cultural Foundation

“We cannot just showcase culture: from SURE to Next Generation EU, every European emergency mechanism should be used to support the cultural and creative sectors,” Renew Europe Coordinator Laurence Farreng said in the plenary, while the S&D Coordinator Petra Kammerevert stressed on the need to “not just repair the damage but create something new” by investing in culture and doubling the Creative Europe budget. 

We talk about “united in diversity” in the EU – but all that will disappear if we don’t help the creative sectors in the EU, for example through a universal basic income (UBI) for creators and artists”, Greens MEP Niklas Nienaß added. “We need a New Deal for Culture, but the amount of money in the MFF is not up to the challenges we face,” underlined Creative Europe rapporteur Massimiliano Smeriglio (S&D). 

While EU Ministers coordinate their calls for a strengthened support for culture in the EU post-pandemic long-term budget, MEPs from all major groups are also coming together around the newly-established Cultural Creators Friendship Group, which will be a key interlocutor for the cultural creative sectors and civil society organisations in the EU institutions. 

In the meantime, a group of artists, among which are singer Bjork, performance artist Marina Abramovich, film director Agnieszka Holland, award-winning bookseller Nina George, composer Jean Michel Jarre, singer MØ, choreographer Anne-Teresa Keersmaeker and many others, have addressed a letter to the EU and national leaders urging them to “be bold” and invest in culture at the EU level.

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