A SOTEU address in support of Ukraine
It is that time of the year again. The president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen pronounced her third annual State of the Union (SOTEU) address before the plenary of the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday 14 September. A major moment to take stock of policy advancements in the past year, and to sketch out priorities for the months to come, this year’s SOTEU was dominated by the Russian war in Ukraine, which is about to enter its eighth month, and by the consequences on European households and businesses, hit by skyrocketing energy prices.
Dressed in blue and yellow, the colours of Ukraine (which coincidentally are the same as the EU), von der Leyen re-stated the EU’s unwavering commitment to support Kyiv in front of the first lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska, invited as a guest of honour in Strasbourg.
Focus on Kyiv (and a special Creative Europe call with the same goal)
Von der Leyen praised citizens-led initiatives in solidarity with Ukrainian forcibly displaced people coming to Europe – many of those involving also actors from the cultural and creative sectors. In this regard, just hours before the SOTEU address, the European Commission launched a 5 million euros special call for cooperation projects under the Creative Europe programme to support Ukrainian displaced people and the Ukrainian cultural and creative sectors, included in the recently approved annual Work Programme of Creative Europe.
Support will be given to cooperation projects organised in partnerships composed of at least one Ukrainian organisation and at least one organisation based in another Creative Europe country. Creative Europe’s co-financing rate will be set at 90%.
Grants will be provided to a consortium of organisations (with a minimum of one organisation from Ukraine) implementing activities for the benefit of a wider number of stakeholders. Three projects will be selected for financing. Maximum of 2 million euros will be given each to projects (1) supporting Ukrainian artists and cultural organisations to create and showcase their art and work, and to projects (2) helping Ukrainians displaced by the war through culture. The remaining 1 million euros will be available for medium-term objectives such as (3) the post-war recovery of the Ukrainian cultural sectors and the training of Ukrainian cultural heritage professionals. The call is open until 29 November.
In light of the new status of Ukraine as a candidate State to join the EU, the participation of Ukrainian cultural and creative professionals will also be encouraged in other relevant schemes such as the platform or mobility actions, the Commission writes in the amended annual Work Programme.
Culture not explicit in the speech
Unlike two years ago, when in the midst of the pandemic von der Leyen jumped from energy efficiency to the (then) obscure idea of a New European Bauhaus able to make the Green Deal closer to the European citizens through culture, architecture and the arts, however, this time around the president of the Commission fell short of explicitly mentioning culture even once. She stressed once again the need for the EU to become more autonomous and to stand up against autocracies worldwide to uphold the democratic model. However, despite a possible strong link there, she did not elaborate on the role of culture not just as a sector of the economy, but as a key driver in safeguarding democracy and the rule of law, as well as, and more in general, as a vector of sustainable development.
Among other announcements during her address, President von der Leyen backed the Parliament’s request to open a Convention to reform and modernise the EU Treaties, as a follow-up on the one-year long Conference on the Future of Europe.
She also mentioned the intention to launch an initiative on mental health, and to propose 2023 as the European Year of Education and Training. In both those actions, culture will need to be prominently present.
The CultureForHealth project, led by Culture Action Europe, focuses for example on how cultural activities can support illness prevention, health promotion, and the treatment of health conditions. The link between culture and education, and the role of cultural education also in view to empower democratic engagement, will need to be adequately addressed as part of the European Year of Education and Training.