Arts Officials Urge the European Commission to Rethink the ‘Deeply Disappointing’ Provisions for Culture in Its New €750 Billion Recovery Plan

Culture representatives argue that the ambitious bailout does not adequately provide for their struggling sector.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images.

European Union officials are urging the government’s executive branch to increase support for culture in its new €750 billion ($826 billion) recovery plan. 

The European Commission announced an ambitious seven-year budget yesterday to bail out the EU’s 27 member states from the economic impact of COVID-19, but culture representatives say it fails to provide enough protection for their industry, which is one of the economic sectors that has been hardest hit by the pandemic.

The new aid package, dubbed “Next Generation EU,” plans to jumpstart the economy with the €750 billion injection, as well as targeted reinforcements to the long-term EU budget for 2021-2027, which the Commission says in a statement “will bring the total financial firepower of the EU budget to €1.85 trillion” ($2 trillion).

While the new plan details ambitious provisions for a new Green Deal and digital transitions, some representatives have criticized the budget cuts to cultural initiatives. Cultural officials have warned that cuts to three programs—Erasmus+, Creative Europe, and European Solidarity Corps—are “bad news for young people,” and send a “terrible message” to the cultural, creative, and media sectors.

In a statement reacting to the proposed budget yesterday, representatives of all three programs, including the chair of the EU’s culture and education committee, Sabine Verheyen, expressed their disappointment.

“While the Commission’s proposed recovery plan has a lot going for it, the specific figures for the education, culture, and youth programs are deeply disappointing and simply not in line with the statement by the Commission President on the importance of future generations, along with education and culture,” they write.

While the proposed budget for all three programs has increased since the most recent proposal put forward by the European Council president Charles Michel in February, they call this an “unacceptable baseline,” and highlight the discrepancy in the figures from the institution’s original proposal for the 2021-2027 budget back in 2018, which were much higher. “Since when does the Commission call decreases increases?” they ask.

The representatives specifically called out the decreased budget for Creative Europe, the only EU program that directly supports Europe’s culture and creative sectors. They write that the pandemic has “ravaged” these sectors across Europe, and that the new proposal “ignores this impact completely.”

Earlier this month, Verheyen called for the Commission to double the budget for Creative Europe, arguing that the intergovernmental economic organization OECD’s estimates in March that recreation and culture spending would drop by just 10 percent were “wildly optimistic,” adding, “many small organizations and individuals face ruin and Europe risks losing its heart and soul.”

The statement also accuses the institution of creating false expectations, pointing out that the Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen promised to support the call to triple the budget for Erasmus+, which is a student exchange program, in July last year.

While the officials admit that there is “much to praise” in the institution’s ambitious recovery plan, they urge it to “think again” when it comes to support for culture, education, and youth programs. “The Committee on Culture and Education will continue to fight for a budget that shows the necessary ambition and can make a real difference to these sectors, not just now, but for the next seven years.”

The new budget period will begin on January 1, but all 27 member states must first agree on the budget before it can take effect. While it has seen positive responses from economic powerhouses France and Germany, some of the more frugal nations, including Austria and Sweden, could still oppose the plan to borrow the money on the financial markets and embedding the debt into the next long-term budget.

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