Why Europe needs a Cultural Deal

By embedding culture into policymaking at all levels we can make sure the EU recovers economically, socially and emotionally from the pandemic into a more inclusive and cohesive union
Source: European Cultural Foundation

By Isabelle Schwarz

Isabelle Schwarz is Head of Public Policy at the European Cultural Foundation

08 Nov 2021

The COVID-19 crisis is a major test of the EU’s unity and solidarity. On the positive side, Member States have reached a historical deal with Next Generation EU. On the flip side, old and new divides are resurfacing (e.g., rule of law, migration, climate change) now that the recovery fund has started rolling out, further testing European solidarity. How do citizens relate to Europe? Will the recovery funds help heal societies that are deeply affected by the crisis economically, socially and emotionally?

During the pandemic, we saw how culture has the capacity to bring us together as a community and help repair traumatised societies. Culture is not a leisure or a form of entertainment. It weights economically (representing 4.4% of EU GDP in pre-COVID times) but is first and foremost a sense-maker: defining who we are and guiding what we care for. It is the driver of our choices and our dreams.

Throughout the pandemic, culture has been the lifeline for many, providing hope and strength. Although among those most affected by the pandemic – with revenues dropping up to 90% for some (GESAC study Rebuilding Europe, Jan 2021) –, artists, creators, cultural entrepreneurs have shown extraordinary resilience that needs to be not only acknowledged but invested in to re-build and re-imagine Europe.

The European Cultural Foundation, Culture Action Europe and Europa Nostra representing the cultural and cultural heritage sector by and large, launched in the midst of the pandemic A Cultural Deal for Europe. The purpose of the initiative, welcomed by leading European political voices like European Parliament President David Sassoli and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, is to cement the position of culture in European and national policymaking.

The Cultural Deal for Europe is a collective effort to position culture at the heart of EU policy priorities. It is not naïve or romantic but hard-core realism: if we fail to reset our course and leave culture at the margins of EU policymaking, it will be impossible to build a Europe that is inclusive and cohesive while also competitive and sustainable.

The Cultural Deal calls for the following:

  • Devoting at least 2% of the EU Recovery and Resilience Facility to culture
  • Making sure all national recovery and resilience plans have a cultural and European dimension
  • Upholding democracy and rights for a values-based Europe
  • Including culture in the Green Deal and in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda
  • Embedding culture into the European Commission’s six political priorities (climate, digital, economy, justice, democracy, international relations)
  • Investing in better employment and working conditions of artists and cultural workers
  • Working with philanthropy, through strategic co-investments and the design of new instruments, on the recovery and future of Europe
  • Making culture part and parcel of the Conference on the Future of Europe

If we are to change, learn from COVID-19, and not fall back to the previous unsustainable development model, culture needs to be part of the new course for Europe. We all know we cannot continue business as usual, but we need to be inventive and creative, and include everyone we can. The EU needs a cultural pilar to drive its values, succeed with its green and digital transformation, and imagine its future. There is no community, no horizon, no future without culture.


On November 18, the European Cultural Foundation, Culture Action Europe, and Europa Nostra host their third Annual Policy Conversation on the Cultural Deal in and with BOZAR and in partneship with the Rebuilding Europe with Culture Campaign. The conversation will be live-streamed, please register via this link.


This article reflects the views of the author and not the views of The Parliament Magazine or of the Dods Group

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