The Importance of Culture in the European Union

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The Importance of Culture in the European Union

Forum d'Avignon – Les rencontres internationales de la culture, de l'économie et des médias

Avignon, 6 November 2010

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Dear Minister, ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests,

I am delighted to be here today to highlight the importance of culture in the European Union. Given the new challenges the sector faces and its social and economic importance, I would like to share with you my ambition and my strategy for the months to come.

ICT the game-changer in culture

In recent years, the rapid roll-out of information and communication technologies has transformed our lives: how we communicate, but also what and how we create, bring to market, consume and share. Today, the most valuable raw materials are: the ability to imagine, the desire to experiment, the skills to create.

There are many creators across Europe who have a vital role as relays for much of our cultural diversity. The digital environment can help our cultural diversity to flourish, provided we maintain and develop the right conditions for individual creativity in all its diversity.

Creative and cultural industries depend on intellectual property rights which provide a fair reward for creation.

The Commission is preparing several initiatives on IPR: a legislative proposal on orphan works, a communication on IPR enforcement, a legislative proposal on collective rights management, and a consultation on online distribution of audiovisual works and other creative content.

We need to ensure a level playing field when it comes to IPR. But we equally want IPR management and business practices to broaden consumer access to all the cultural content that Europe may offer.

Ladies and gentlemen, 'going digital' is a major challenge for cultural content. Recently, I have taken two initiatives which, I believe, will help encourage the digital shift.

Firstly, I - together with my colleague Neelie Kroes -have established a Comité des Sages or wisemen's group.

This committee has 3 members:

  • Maurice Lévy, chairman of Publicis (the French publicity and communication agency) who is present among us today;
  • Elisabeth Niggemann, general director of the national library in Germany and President of the European Digital Library Foundation;
  • and Jacques de Decker, a writer and Belgian journalist.

We have asked these three personalities to make recommendations on how we can accelerate the digitization of cultural works, increase on-line access to them throughout Europe and allow for their better conservation.

The recommendations should ultimately enable Europeana, the European digital library, to take on a new dimension. We expect the committee to deliver its report at the end of this year.

My second initiative aims to support digization in cinemas. In September the Commission adopted the Communication on opportunities and challenges for European cinema in the Digital era.

Many cinemas in Europe have gone digital already. But digital conversion represents a challenge for a substantial number of them. Experts consider that about 20.000 of the 30.000 screens in the EU could be equipped thanks to the 'Virtual Print Fee' scheme. This US-imported model is adapted to multi-screen cinemas with a large share of US programming.

Why are the remaining 10.000 cinemas at risk? They are often smaller cinemas with more 'arthouse' and European film programming. This is for instance the case for the 1500 screens of the Europa Cinemas network supported by the MEDIA programme. Moreover, the cinemas at risk are often situated in areas where they are the only social activity and access point to culture.

That is why more and more countries are developing models with a large share of public funding so that most, if not all, of their cinemas can cope with the cost of digital transition. And it is my privilege to set the right framework at the European level, together with my colleague Joaquin Almunia, who is in charge of the competition policy.

In France, for instance, the development of digital equipment is quite impressive. No equivalent European country experienced such a strong expansion of its d-cinemas. I know that in Avignon, for example, there are already two digital cinemas.

The Commission's strategy will add value to regional and national actions. We have set out options for financial support, including state-aid and possible backing from the European Regional Development Fund, as well as from the MEDIA programme.

The role of cinema

In addition to our scheme for the digitization of cinemas, I would like to stress that cinema plays an important role in shaping European identities.

The cinema landscape is changing rapidly worldwide, opening up new opportunities for European cinema and the audiovisual industry. At the same time, we need to address issues of investment in equipment, training and new business models.

The MEDIA Programme aims to strengthen the competitiveness of the audiovisual and cinema sectors in Europe. It will invest 755 million Euros in support of Europe's film industry from 2007 to 2013.

It also aims to increase the circulation of European films and to enhance European cultural and linguistic diversity. Earlier this year, in Cannes, 20 of the selected films had received MEDIA support. MEDIA-supported European films have received 8 out of the past 10 Palmes d'Or in Cannes. They also won several Oscars for best foreign film, including 'The Life of Others' (2007) or 'The Counterfeiters' (2008) to name but two of them.

That's why we will soon launch a the MEDIA Production Guarantee Fund, which will provide 8 million Euros in loan guarantees in 2010-2013 to support and facilitate access to finance for European film companies.

Cultural and Creative Industries for growth

Let me now turn to cultural and creative industries. Ladies and gentlemen,

CCIs are not only essential for cultural diversity in Europe. They are also one of Europe's most dynamic sectors and an important provider of quality jobs. Around 5 million people across the EU work in these industries. They include performing arts, visual arts, cultural heritage, film, television and radio, music, book publishing, press, video games, new media, architecture, graphic and fashion design and advertising.

These sectors contribute around 2.6 % to EU GDP. And their growth rate is higher than in the rest of the economy. Their contribution to EU GDP is greater than the chemicals and plastic products industry (2.3 %) or real estate activities (2.1 %).

In this region of Provence Alpes Cote d'Azur, CCIs represent around 60,000 jobs. The art craft industry alone is the first cultural employer in the region.

Two dedicated CCI institutions have been set up in the region: the multimedia incubator 'la Belle de Mai' in Marseilles and the École Nationale Supérieure of Photography in Arles. All this underlines the economic potential and attractiveness of the cultural sector.

Our recent Green Paper on unlocking the potential of creative and cultural industries has sparked a debate on how to create an environment in which the sector can fulfil its potential and contribute to economic growth.

Messages from the consultation include the need to improve guarantee schemes and to ease access to finance, to invest in skills to match emerging needs, to target support for clusters and networks, and to create partnerships between the culture sector and others to make the most of creative spillovers.

Culture in regional development

Ladies and gentlemen,

A vibrant culture sector can also be a major element of a region's attractiveness and part of its strategic vision for economic and social development. 6 billion Euros of cohesion funding have been allocated to culture for 2007-2013 to protect and preserve cultural heritage, develop cultural infrastructure, and support cultural services.

Good cultural projects may contribute to both the competiveness and the social cohesion of our cities and regions. Look at the way that European Capitals of Culture such as Lille and Liverpool have successfully invested in culture through smart choices in order to reshape the city and its image.

Investment in culture leverages large returns. In 2004, when Lille was European Capital of Culture, 1 euro invested in the event from public funds has generated more or less 10 Euros in the economic cycle of the city on the long term. 9 million visitors came to Lille that year, which is an increase of 30 % in the number of tourists compared to the previous year.

Cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue

Cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue are one of my main priorities. 2010 is the European Year dedicated to the fight against poverty and social exclusion. Let me therefore take this opportunity to underline that culture can bring about a more inclusive society.

Our Culture programme is strongly focused on extending the reach of culture to all, regardless of background, and to harnessing the potential of culture for positive intercultural dialogue. We have also significantly increased projects related to minorities including Roma (up from 21 projects in 2008 to 35 projects in 2009).

The European Heritage Label is another initiative which will help raise awareness of our common European identity. The Commission's proposal for the Label, currently under discussion, will highlight sites which symbolise European history, the building of the Union, as well as European values and human rights.

Culture in international relations

Finally, ladies and gentlemen, a few words about culture in international relations.

Since the adoption of the European Agenda for Culture, a new framework and vision for culture in the EU's external relations has emerged. Culture is increasingly perceived as a strategic factor for political, social and economic development.

I am thinking of the new Eastern Partnership, for example, but also of the Union for the Mediterranean, where a new Euromed strategy on culture is underway. A new initiative for regional and inter-regional cooperation in the European Neighbourhood will be launched next year. The role of culture in successful development policies is also increasingly recognised. And bilateral partnerships have started with developed or emerging partner countries such as China, Brazil, Mexico and India.

Since 2007, the Commission has earmarked more than 100 million Euros for culture in third countries and regional cooperation.

This year's 5th anniversary of the Unesco Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions invites us to take stock of progress and look ahead to new challenges. The Ministerial conference that I will organize in Brussels on 8 December will be the occasion to develop new initiatives.

Finally, we are now in a process of streamlining cultural cooperation in the renewed external policy of the Union. I believe that culture has a significant contribution to make in this area, notably vis-à-vis third countries.

I am personally and strongly committed to making culture a part of the forthcoming Communication on the 'European Union in the World', prepared by our High Representative and V.P. of the Commission, Catherine Ashton, for the newly established European External Action Service.


Dear Minister, distinguished participants,

Europe is still suffering the effects of the world's worst economic crisis since the 1930s. In addition to its impact on jobs and growth, the social impact of the crisis is clear. Many people are threatened by unemployment and poverty, struggling to connect with the community around them.

Culture contributes to economic and social development; it creates jobs and growth in cities and regions, sparks innovation in other sectors, and unlocks creative thinking. But it also broadens our horizons, gives us fresh eyes to understand our own lives and those of others. Encounters with culture bring meaning and joy to our lives – and challenge the status quo. This is also culture's contribution to the European project.

Our message, ladies and gentlemen, is clear – investing in culture pays! Far from being a luxury, strategic investment in culture should be at the very heart of an economically vibrant, creative and cohesive Europe.

Thank you for your attention.

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