Welcoming a transversal role for culture?

September 30, 2019, 11:50 am

Almost three weeks after Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen announced the composition and structure of the next European College of Commissioners, culture continues to be absent from the portfolio title of Commissioner-designate Mariya Gabriel. Ms. Gabriel’s proposed portfolio, “Innovation and Youth”, currently covers youth, research, innovation, sport and education.

While it is welcome to see culture as part of the portfolio of a Commission Vice-President responsible for the transversal interaction of culture with other policy areas, the absence of “culture” in the Commissioner-designate’s title is of considerable concern, as its exclusion may result in less overall recognition.

Therefore, the question remains: should we welcome a transversal European cultural policy?

In her mission letter Gabriel is entrusted with:

  • The implementation of the New European Agenda for Culture 2019-2022 as well as the European Framework on Cultural Heritage;
  • The promotion of creative industries as a catalyst for innovation, jobs and growth as part of an ambitious Creative Europe Programme with an increased budget;
  • Enhancing the cultural dimension of external relations

However, in the architecture of von der Leyen’s new Commission, cultural competences lie across different portfolios. The Vice-President for A Europe fit for the Digital Age, Margrethe Vestager, is meant to take into account the cultural dimension of the use and sharing of  non-personalised big data to develop new technologies and business models. Culture’s role to foster unity, diversity and social inclusion has been entrusted to Margaritis Schinas, Vice-President for Protecting our European Way of Life, whose responsibilities include migration policies. This coupling of policy areas under a controversial title has been widely commented across the European political spectrum.

Following the disappearance of culture from Ms. Gabriel’s job title, European Parliament President Sassoli made explicit that “fundamental” portfolio names like “immigration,” “culture” and “research” were missing” from Commissioner-designates portfolios. The new College of Commissioners will soon face six days of parliamentary hearings, with Commissioner-designate Gabriel scheduled to face the CULT Committee on 30 September (latest draft timetable here).

Indeed, given possible conflicts of interest, Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee blocked the hearings of Rovana Plumb, nominee for transport commissioner, and László Trócsányi, commissioner-designate for relations with the EU’s neighbors. Moreover, it is certain that the lack of culture in the Ms. Gabriel’s portfolio title will be addressed in the upcoming hearing, as affirmed by  CULT Committee Chair Sabine Verheyen speaking at the recent “Act for Europe Through Culture” event co-organised by the European Cultural Foundation and Culture Action Europe on 23 September.

While it is only within the power of the European Parliament to reject or accept the College as a whole, Parliament has often used its role in the appointment of the Commission as leverage to press for the replacement of certain controversial candidates and to force adjustments to certain portfolios (more information here). However as the confirmation hearings of the Commissioners-designate play out over the coming weeks, questions remain regarding the full scope of Ms. von der Leyen’s proposed transversal approach, and whether it is capable of giving culture the recognition necessary for successful integration with other areas of EU policy.

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