“Many are the people who feel their lives have been on pause while the world has been on fast forward (…). This has also been a time of soul-searching. From people reassessing their own lives to wider debates on sharing vaccines and on shared values.(…) But as I look back on this past year, if I look at the state of the Union today, I see a strong soul in everything that we do. It was Robert Schuman who said: Europe needs a soul, an ideal, and the political will to serve this ideal.”
If we have to do a wordcloud of Ursula von der Leyen’s second State of the Union address (SOTEU, here in full) before the plenary of the European Parliament, “soul” was among the most used expressions – it’s even featured in the title. Hence, in principle, the SOTEU could have offered several hooks for culture to be prominently included in the narrative of the President of the Commission.
However, it was not. Or at the very least, not explicitly.
The President mainly addressed the climate crisis, the progress on securing enough COVID-19 vaccines and becoming the first world producer and donor, as well as foreign policy, rule of law and humanitarian issues such as the crisis in Afghanistan, freedom of speech violations, migration, and human trafficking. Furthermore, the “Next Generation EU” Recovery Plan has had a predominant position in her speech along with the importance of investing in digitalisation and tech sovereignty. “Young people must be able to shape Europe’s future,” von der Leyen said, declaring 2022 the European Year of Youth and introducing the new program “ALMA” with the purpose to assist young Europeans to find temporary work experience across the Member States.
While the many values of culture were echoed in the address, culture itself was not an explicit part of the speech, despite being among the most impacted sectors by the pandemic fallout. The lack of recognition of culture as a fundamental dimension for building sustainable, fair and equal future of Europe still proves to be a key issue (as many will recall from the campaign “Bring Back Culture, Madam President” from exactly two years ago, when culture was explicitly missing from the title of any Commissioners’ portfolio). Culture, however, is more than ‘just’ a sector of the economy – it is what binds us together, it is at the basis of the European project and determines the future of our societies as advocated by Culture Action Europe, the European Cultural Foundation (ECF), and Europa Nostra, also in its capacity as coordinator of the European Heritage Alliance in the #CulturalDealEU campaign.
State of the New European Bauhaus
From the podium in Strasbourg, President von der Leyen took the chance to briefly update also about the New European Bauhaus (NEB) latest developments, citing the project to be the “soul of the Green Deal”. Following SOTEU, the Commission released a Communication on the New European Bauhaus, taking stock of the many contributions received during the co-design phase of the initiative.
The EU’s executive branch announced that an additional 85 million euros will be retrieved from the budget of various EU programmes to finance the NEB. While Horizon Europe and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) will make the main contribution, Creative Europe will also have to support some NEB initiatives. Not exactly in line with what the cultural and creative sectors and the European Parliament asked for. Although the contribution to the NEB overarching policy priorities will be comparatively smaller, some actions will still be financed by the Creative Europe programme, the EU’s only programme dedicated to trans-national cultural cooperation, adding to the programme’s already vast set of objectives. Such contributions span from Creative Innovation Labs under the cross-sectoral strand of the programme (deadline for the call is 5 October) to a (for now vague) programme of artists residencies connected to the New European Bauhaus. In 2022, the cooperation calls will also include topics and thematic priorities relevant to the NEB, an Annex to the Communication on funding instruments for the New European Bauhaus specifies.
The establishment of the New European Bauhaus Lab, a “think and do tank” to serve as an additional initiative to cultivate collaboration, co-creation, prototyping and policy proposals has also been announced in the Communication, together with the launch of a series of NEB Festivals, to start in spring 2022 in Brussels. From 2023 onwards, the Commission will envisage a concept for a yearly event that should ideally include places in and outside the EU.
Added to this, on 16 September the Commission presented the “New European Bauhaus Awards” and the “New European Bauhaus Rising Stars” prizes. 20 projects ‘embodying’ the values of the New European Bauhaus (‘sustainability, inclusiveness and aesthetics’) were awarded with 30.000 and 15.000 euros respectively. You can re-watch the ceremony here.