What is it about?

Across Europe’s regions and cities, culture is highly valued by residents and visitors alike. Cultural and creative industries are also a vital asset for regional economic competitiveness and attractiveness, while cultural heritage is a key element of the image and identity of cities and regions and oftentimes the focus of city tourism.

Funding for regions and cities is available through a number of EU programmes, also supporting culture in regional development. The European Commission also works with national, regional and city authorities to share best practice on culture and regional development.

Under the European Capitals of Culture programme (which turned 30 in 2015), cities have been highlighting the richness of European cultures and allowing European citizens to share celebrations of their diversity, while successfully integrating culture into long-term development plans.

Why is it needed?

Cultural and creative sectors need to be integrated into regional and local development strategies in order to:

  • promote traditional cultural assets
  • stimulate the development of creative businesses
  • support investment in infrastructure and in human capital
  • bring spill-over effects into the wider local economy

This is in line with the regional economic development principle of Smart Specialisation Strategies (S3), identifying particular strengths and potentials as the basis for investments.

What is the EC’s role?

The European Commission has three main roles:

  1. to provide financial support to local and regional authorities
  2. to raise awareness about the potential of cultural and creative sectors for regional and local development
  3. to help local and regional authorities formulate integrated strategies

Financial support is provided primarily through the European Structural and Investment Funds, consisting of European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), European Social Fund (ESF), Cohesion Fund (CF), European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF).

What has been done so far?

Since 1985, under the European Capitals of Culture programme, cities have successfully invested in culture to create jobs, promote social inclusion, and transform their image.

Under European Structural and Investment Funds and European Regional Development Fund in particular, around 100 European regions have cultural and creative industries and/or cultural heritage included in their Research & Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation, both within regional and national S3 priorities in 2014-2020.

Awareness-raising and policy support on culture has been provided through working groups of national experts, who produce policy handbooks, for instance, on the strategic use of EU support programmes for culture or on the role of public policies in developing entrepreneurial and innovation potential of the cultural and creative sectors.

In 2015-2017, a peer-learning project Culture for Cities and Regions, funded by Creative Europe, examined selected existing cultural initiatives and their impact on local and regional development. Outputs of this project included a catalogue of 70 case studies, study visits to 15 cities/regions, and expert coaching for 10 cities/regions.

In 2016-2018, European Creative Hubs Network project was co-founded by Creative Europe, bringing together more than 200 platforms or workplaces for cultural and creative sectors scattered across European cities, in order to foster their exchanges, strengthen cooperation and facilitate capacity building.

In 2017, the EC’s Joint Research Centre developed the first edition of its Cultural and Creative Cities Monitor that aims at showing how well 168 selected cities in 30 European countries perform on a range of measures describing their cultural vibrancy and creative economy.

Workshops and discussion panels about the role of culture for local development have also been held during European Culture Forum, a flagship event of the European Commission organised to raise the profile of European cultural cooperation. Specific sessions on this topic were for instance organized at its 2016 and 2017 editions, in Brussels and Milan respectively.

What are the next steps?

The strategic objectives of the New European Agenda for Culture, proposed by the European Commission in May 2018, focus on the power of culture for social cohesion, well-being and boosting economic growth as well as strengthening international cultural relations. This new strategic document recognizes that cities and regions across EU are at the forefront of culture-led development and constitute natural partners for experimentation, anticipating trends and exploring models of social and economic innovation.

Within the framework of the Urban Agenda for the EU, a new multi-level working method promoting cooperation between Member States, cities, the European Commission and other stakeholders, a new Partnership was initiated in 2018 on the topic of Culture and Cultural Heritage.

The new framework for European Capitals of Culture, amended by the 2017 Decision of the European Parliament and the Council, makes it possible for a city in a candidate country, in a potential candidate for EU membership or in a European Free Trade Association country which is party to the Agreement on the European Economic Area to hold the title every third year. This will be selected through an open competition, meaning that cities from various countries may compete with each other. The first competition of the kind has already been launched for the 2024 title.

The 2018 Creative Europe Work Programme foresees a EUR 1.5 million peer-learning project Cultural and creative spaces and cities. This action shall address creative hubs, which have recently and rapidly developed in urban areas in numerous cities throughout the EU. Apart from the hubs, the project will aim to provide support to cultural and creative spaces as well as other local stakeholders, including urban and regional authorities.