Europe not 'fully exploiting' cultural growth potential

The creative Europe programme help the EU exploit its vast 'cultural, social and economic' possibilities, write Androulla Vassiliou and Silvia Costa.

Europe faces challenges which often cannot be effectively addressed by member states acting alone. The cultural and creative sectors are a good example of what can be achieved by pooling our resources and working together to overcome transnational problems – and to seize opportunities to expand Europe's cultural footprint on a global scale.

The cultural and creative sectors (CCS) currently account for up to 4.5 per cent of the EU's GDP and employ more than eight million people. This is undoubtedly impressive, especially if their spill-over impact in other areas such as tourism and the IT sector is also taken into account. [pullquote]Nonetheless, we believe that the potential of the cultural and creative sectors for growth is not fully exploited and that, with the right support, their contribution to job creation and the EU economy could be even greater[/pullquote].

The CCS face three major challenges when it comes to making the most of the single market and the opportunities created by globalisation and the digital shift.

The first is that the European landscape is characterised by a multitude of cultures and linguistic areas that result in a fragmented cultural space which severely restricts opportunities for creative professionals to reach audiences beyond their home base. The second is that globalisation and digitisation are dramatically altering the way that art is made, accessed and distributed. The way audiences interact with the arts and how cultural institutions engage their audiences is also in a state of flux. The third challenge is the sectors' chronic shortage of access to finance. Due to a lack of in-depth knowledge, banks tend to view creative enterprises as 'risky' when it comes to loan applications. It is rare, for example, for a lending institution to have much experience in assessing the value of intangible assets such as intellectual property rights.

The European Union's response to these challenges and opportunities was to propose a comprehensive strategy for the cultural and creative sectors and a new programme – creative Europe – which was launched in January. The new programme has a budget of €1.46bn over the next seven years – nine per cent more than current levels. It will provide support for the full range of professionals and organisations within the CCS: from culture to cinema, television, music, literature, performing arts, heritage and related areas. All stand to benefit. In total, it will help to fund at least 250,000 artists and cultural professionals, 2000 cinemas, 800 films and 4500 book translations. It will also launch a new financial guarantee facility enabling small cultural and creative businesses to access up to €750m in bank loans.

The new programme also aims to encourage partnerships with non-EU countries. As under the current Culture and Media programmes, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and the Swiss federation, EU accession countries, candidate and potential candidate countries will be able to take part in creative Europe, subject to certain conditions including paying an 'entry ticket'. And, for the first time, countries involved in the European neighbourhood policy can also participate as long as they meet entry conditions.

The long-standing flagship initiative European capitals of culture, the new initiative European heritage label, as well as European heritage days and the five European Union prizes (EU prize for cultural heritage/Europa Nostra awards, EU prize for contemporary architecture, EU prize for literature, European border breakers awards, and EU prix media) will also receive support under the new programme.

Creative Europe builds on the experience and success of the culture and media programmes, which have supported the cultural and audiovisual sectors for more than 20 years. The new programme includes a culture sub-programme, supporting performing and visual arts, heritage and other areas, and a media sub-programme, which will provide funding for the cinema and audiovisual sector. A new cross-sectoral strand will support policy cooperation, transversal measures and the new financial guarantee facility, which will be operational from 2016.

By helping artists to reach new audiences and cross over national borders, creative Europe will help to safeguard and promote European cultural and linguistic diversity. It also seeks to strengthen the competitiveness of the CCS so that they contribute fully to the Europe 2020 objective for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

This dual approach – protection of diversity and support for international success – underpins the whole programme: by seeking to help cultural and audiovisual professionals to develop their careers beyond their home country, by helping cultural organisations become more professional, and by bringing cultural works to new and larger audiences in other countries.

Audience development is a key focus for creative Europe: this means extending access to the arts by attracting new audiences, for example the young and disadvantaged, but also in ensuring that existing audiences are encouraged to continue their support.

The reality is that today just a fraction of the EU's 500 million citizens are accessing cultural works from other European countries. This is a massive missed opportunity, as there are tremendous cultural, social and economic benefits waiting to be seized. Creative Europe seeks to address this challenge by ensuring that more people are able to appreciate the wealth of inspirational, creative and artistic treasures that Europe can offer, while at the same time making the most of culture as a means for fostering exchange and dialogue.

We believe that creative Europe can make a real difference to millions of people, whether as beneficiaries or the many others, like us, who love the arts and believe that European culture is worth fighting for.