The Commission’s priorities for 2020 | A Union that strives for more?

February 4, 2020, 12:15 pm

On the 29th of January the European Commission presented its priorities for 2020. The Work Programme sets out the main steps the Commission will take in 2020 to turn the six priorities of President von der Leyen into concrete initiatives that will then be implemented in cooperation with the European Parliament, Member States and other partners. 

The first year – and the first 100 days! – of political decisions will be crucial to set the right direction and right level of ambition. Culture Action Europe had a close look at the Commission’s political agenda and specific steps von der Leyen’s Commission proposes: while the ambition for an ecologically, economically and socially sustainable Europe is strong, the directions and instruments to get there are missing a fundamental ingredient: culture. The UN 2030 Agenda is an underlying priority of von der Leyen’s political ambitions. Given the transversal role of culture in achieving all of the 17 SDGs, as argued in the report “Culture in the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda” by Culture Action Europe and partners, it is extremely worrying that none of the 43 new policy objectives in the text directly mentions culture. There is considerable evidence for the paramount role that culture plays in ensuring fair and equitable growth and job creation, fostering democracy, social justice and cohesion, fighting social exclusion and demographic disparities. Culture is not an accessory but a fundamental building block of a “Union that strives for more”. 

Within the six headline ambitions, culture should figure at least under the priorities assigned to those portfolio’s comprising cultural competences: 

A Europe fit for the Digital Age 

Vice-President Margrethe Vestager is meant to take into account the cultural dimension of the use and sharing of big data. The new European Data Strategy aims at promoting the enormous value of non-personal data as an ever-expanding and re-usable asset in the digital economy. Culture has a fundamental role in the evolution of the digital market, as the digital shift is changing the way audiences engage with cultural production: according to Eurostat, a consistent portion of internet consumption is due to cultural-related contents. In 2018, 72 % of internet users in the EU-28 watched internet streamed TV or videos. 56 % them used the internet to listen to music (web radio or streaming services) and 22% purchased books, magazines and newspapers online. In 2008, the Internet was already responsible for the 2% of CO2 global emissions, exceeding those of the entire aviation industry. The amount of users and network connections has increased at a whooping pace ever since. As an indication of this: global energy demand related to internet-connected devices is increasing 20% a year, 2015 already accounted for 3-5% of the world’s electricity use and it is expected that by 2025 ICT will consume 20% of it, which would potentially hamper global attempts to meet climate change targets.

The cultural sector is a major content creator online and therefore the main contributor to the environmental footprint of the internet. We wonder if the environmental impact of the growing digital consumption is under the radar of von der Leyen’s commission? And whether the Vice-President Vestager has a comprehensive approach to ensuring plurality and diversity of cultural content online? 

Given the Commission’s aim to successfully grasp the opportunities offered by the twin ecological and digital transitions, the environmental impact and sustainability of digital cultural content production and consumption should be high on the Commission’s political agenda.  

Promoting our European Way of Life 

Vice-President Margaritis Schinas is entrusted with ensuring that culture’s role to foster unity, diversity and social inclusion is enabled through integrated EU policies. Culture is a distinct and vast component of the European unity, which is essential for building a shared prosperous future for all European citizens. The tremendous role of culture in European integration has been consistently recognised by the European institutions in the past few years, creating an unprecedented opportunity to seize its potential for building a strong and united European community. 

The Commission has underlined its commitment to making the European Education Area a reality by 2025, mentioning education in two of the policy objectives that constitute von der Leyen’s guidelines. “Part of the European way of life is about fostering skills, education and inclusion”,- reads the relevant section of this work plan. While welcoming this emphasis on educational objectives, what we cannot find, either in the work plan or within the new initiatives is a reference to the deep interconnection that exists between education and culture. Given culture’s crucial role in broadening the access to lifelong learning, especially for the most disadvantaged groups, CAE has been advocating since 2013 (e.g. ‘Background Note to Culture Action Europe Reflection on Structural and Financial Barriers to Access to Culture 2017) for the EU to formulate consistent policies and strategies exploiting the synergies between education, training, youth and culture. Once again the opportunity for an integrated approach either for culture in education or for culture through education has been overlooked at the cost improving transversal skills, broadening access to education, increasing employability, and fostering social inclusion. 

A new push for European democracy?

In the President von der Leyen’s plan, the tasks related to the advancement of democratic rights and transparency at EU level will be headed by three vice-presidents (Jourová, Šefčovič and Šuica), none of which is entrusted with specific cultural competences. However, given culture’s transversal role in achieving these six headlines’ overall objective, namely “upholding a strong and vibrant democracy in Europe’‘, the lack of mention of culture is worrisome. 

Democracy is a core value of our Union, together with fundamental rights and the rule of law” states the Commission work-plan. In this regard, cultural participation is a determining factor. Cultural participation has a multidimensional role: on the one hand it promotes access to culture and cultural rights for people of all backgrounds, on the other hand it contributes to maintaining an open and vibrant European civic space by enabling intercultural dialogue as a core element of peaceful and inclusive societies. Furthermore, cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue play an important role in the promotion of human rights, tolerance, and non-discrimination across the world, as it is emphasised in the EU’s Strategic Approach to International Cultural Relations (2019). 

The European Commission’s legislative proposal for the regulation on Creative Europe 2021-2027 (30 May 2018) notes that “Artistic freedom and diverse and free media environment are central to conveying diverging opinions and perspectives. They contribute to pluralistic societies where citizens are able to make informed choices, including in the context of political elections”. However, the actions foreseen in the political guidelines for 2020 are limited to media freedom, overlooking the freedom of artistic expression (see Freemuse’s new report documenting an alarming scale of violations of artistic freedom across Europe). Expanding its remit to the broader cultural sector is a necessary step to guarantee open, diverse and democratic societies in the current political climate in Europe

European cultural values are being challenged by social and political upheavals such as rise populism, shrinking space for civil society and expansion of new, still little regulated, public spaces provided by digital technologies. Challenges to culture and cultural rights undermining  fundamental freedoms of European citizens as well as culture’s fundamental contribution to the thriving European democratic project deserves the Commission’s immediate recognition and an ambitious political action.

By Elena Maggi

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