Protecting culture during the Coronavirus pandemic

Written by Sabine Verheyen on 13 May 2020 in Opinion
Opinion

Europe’s cultural and creative industries risk being disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions and therefore need tailored, EU level support to recover, argues Sabine Verheyen.

Sabine Verheyen | Photo credit: FKPH


Two months ago, as the Coronavirus outbreak began to spread, the majority of EU Member States introduced restrictive measures to protect their citizens’ health. 

In the cultural sector, we have seen cinemas, big concert halls and small venues, theatres and museums close their doors. Many festivals, conferences, book fairs and film and television productions have been cancelled or at least postponed until further notice. 

However, artists have not downed tools and I salute the incredible response from the sector, for example in generously sharing their performances for free online. 


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After two months of lockdown, many Member States are now gradually lifting their restrictions. However, what we know is that those restrictions are likely to remain in place for far longer for much of the cultural and creative sector. 

The European cultural and creative sectors are facing a profound and unprecedented crisis, the consequences of which will be long-lasting and may be devastating for many operators, especially those that depend directly on live audiences, such as theatres, cinemas and festivals.

“The culture and education committee has therefore written to Commissioners Mariya Gabriel and Thierry Breton to call for a substantial top-up of the Cultural and Creative Sector Guarantee Facility under Creative Europe - either directly through the EU budget or by mobilising the European Fund for Strategic Investments”

For the time being, it is not yet possible to evaluate or quantify the economic impact on the sector, but we know already that it will be devastating. 

Many cultural operators may not survive. The cultural and creative sector is primarily made up of small businesses and individual artists. In 2018, there were 8.7 million people in cultural employment across the EU-28 (3.8 percent of all employment). 

The proportion of self-employed people working in the field of culture was more than double the average seen for the whole of the economy.

The reality for many of them is stark. If performing artists do not work, they do not get paid. Most have a “force majeure” clause in their contracts making them particularly vulnerable to cancellations. 

Similarly, the livelihoods of live music venues, clubs and festivals are already very precarious as they depend on revenue generated by ticket sales, meaning they may risk insolvency.

Member States and regional authorities have introduced a vast range of mitigating measures to save companies and jobs in the sectors and to help individuals survive the crisis.

 But it is not enough. This cultural emergency requires support at EU level to safeguard the already fragile cultural eco-systems. 

First and most urgently, the European Commission must ensure that funds from the SURE scheme, and from the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative, reach the cultural, creative and media sectors through specific earmarking and close follow-up. 

I have said many times that this money must reach the sectors as soon as possible and without unnecessary red tape. Small organisations and individuals often struggle with the paperwork and they need targeted help. 

Before the COVID-19 crisis, the cultural and creative sectors contributed 4.2 percent of the EU’s GDP (based on Eurostat data from 2014). Today, as we enter a new phase of the response to Covid-19, we need to ensure that these sectors will be properly represented in recovery plans. 

Spending money on culture and cultural education is investing in the future of the continent. Let’s use this opportunity to redefine our priorities. 

Secondly, the Creative Europe programme is the only EU programme for culture. As the Commission works on a new proposal for the EU’s budget for the next seven years, it has a historic responsibility. 

“If today we do not support our artists, creators and professionals working in those sectors, it may have devastating consequences for cultural diversity and mean that we simply will not have access to the range of cultural content and expressions we do now”

We need to double the modest budget for Creative Europe for the 2021-2027 period, as the European Parliament has repeatedly demanded. 

We also need to do more at EU level to provide tailored support to the sectors. Parliament’s culture and education committee has therefore written to Commissioners Mariya Gabriel and Thierry Breton to call for a substantial top-up of the Cultural and Creative Sector Guarantee Facility under Creative Europe - either directly through the EU budget or by mobilising the European Fund for Strategic Investments. 

This can help provide credit and access to finance to the cultural and creative sector. We have also asked the Commission to explore the scope for establishing an emergency fund for the media and press sector, potentially drawing on funds that cannot be spent under other programmes owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

As many of us have spent several weeks at home, it cannot have escaped us how fundamental culture is to us. Whether watching a film, listening to music, enjoying an online museum tour or simply reading a book, culture matters so much to our everyday lives. 

If today we do not support our artists, creators and professionals working in those sectors, it may have devastating consequences for cultural diversity and mean that we simply will not have access to the range of cultural content and expressions we do now. 

Looking forward, we need to ensure that there are platforms for expression for emerging artists and for alternative creators promoting European diversity. We need to ensure that these creators have a future and can take on the giant global platforms.

In short, we need to create the conditions for our vibrant cultural and creative sector to recover and to thrive.

About the author

Sabine Verheyen is Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee for Culture and Education

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