Crumbs to culture. The European Union's sensitivity to heritage policies and its (few) resources.


What kind of sensitivity does the European Union show to culture? How much money does it spend on cultural heritage? A very quick analysis of multi-year funds.

When one thinks ofEuropean Union policies and investments, one usually recalls issues such as industrial and agricultural development, viability, integration, and the environment: one hardly associates European policies with cultural heritage. Yet, at least in principle, culture is a priority for the European Union, so much so that 2018 has been declared theEuropean Year of Cultural Heritage. This decision, Silvia Costa, former chairwoman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education, recently stressed, was driven by “the need to raise awareness that in this difficult phase of European history, faced with the challenges of globalization, crisis and terrorism, tempted by the shortcuts of closure and xenophobia, we can only rebuild the foundations of peaceful coexistence and sustainable development by restarting from the richness of our culture, shared values and the capacity for dialogue and international cooperation.”

A fundamental pillar of development, integration, and social cohesion, culture is one of the EU’s strategic policy areas: on May 22, 2018, the Commission adopted a new European Agenda for Culture, which sets three goals for the years to come, namely to put the power of culture at the service of social welfare, to support culture-based creativity in education and innovation (for jobs and growth), and to strengthen international cultural relations. And that culture is a priority is not only established by the agendas of politicians, but is also a perception of European citizens: during the traditional “door opening” day to the public at the Berlaymont Palace in Brussels (the headquarters of the European Commission), thousands of citizens can vote for what they think should be the main spending priority for the Union. From 2013 to 2017, Europeans had no doubts: the main chapter should be for culture and education (in 2017 it was the first priority for 15 percent of citizens, followed by the environment for 14 percent and jobs for 12 percent: to give an idea, internal security, one of the most heard of issues in the last Italian election campaigns, for Europeans is the second-to-last in order of importance, followed only by the issue of growth).

Le priorità d'investimento in Europa secondo i cittadini europei. Fonte: Commissione Europea
Investment priorities in Europe according to Europeans. Source: European Commission

Given the theoretical assumptions, the question must be asked whether and how putting them into practice actually succeeds in following the principles. In the meantime, it is necessary to make a distinction between spending on culture understood as creativity and spending on the protection of cultural heritage, which at the European level follow two different paths (in the analysis that follows, we have not taken into account funds that cover multiple sectors and do not have items dedicated to culture, for example, the Horizon 2020 fund, which is dedicated to R&D and also supports research related to cultural heritage). In the first case, Europe has a special fund, Creative Europe, while in the second case the activities are financed with the structural funds, which are the main financial instruments with which the European Union concretizes its policies in the regional sphere, as well as the resources with which cultural heritage policies are supported.

The Creative Europe program, for the 2014-2020 period (in Europe, resources are allocated over periods of seven years at a time, called “multi-year financial frameworks”), can count on a budget of 1.46 billion euros: a figure that finances initiatives to support creative businesses, artists, professionals in the field, the production of films, literary works, music, video games, publishing products, inclusion through culture, various programs such as the European Capitals of Culture, European Heritage Days, and the five European prizes for culture (Europa Nostra Awards, EU Prize for Contemporary Architecture, EU Prize for Literature, European Border Breakers Awards, and the EU Prix MEDIA). The problem is that this is a very small sum, when you consider that the EU budget is around 150 billion euros every year: it means that out of the budget, spending on Creative Europe weighs a mere 0.15 percent.

That this is derisory spending is clear to many: last year, Europa Nostra called on the European institutions and member states to make greater efforts to “provide sufficient resources, within the next multiannual financial framework,” that is, the one for the period 2021-2027, “for cohesion policies beyond 2020 and, in this context, to explicitly recognize cultural heritage as a key factor for development and social cohesion in Europe.” The assumption, moreover, is that culture creates integration, development, growth, jobs, leads to investment, contributes to faster and more determined achievement of strategic goals in other areas as well. Thus, according to Europa Nostra, much more can be done, but similar pressures are coming from elsewhere: for example, in April last year, a group of acronyms (sixty-seven in all) that bring together companies and professionals working in the creative sector (from the Europe Association of Festivals to the International Federation of Booksellers, from the Europe Jazz Network to the Network of European Museums, from the Federation of European Publishers to the Europe Association of Conservatoriesî) wrote to the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, to express their concerns about the resources Europe allocates to culture. The culture and creativity sector provides Europe with twelve million full-time workers, constituting 7.5 percent of the Union’s workforce and guaranteeing a value that is equal to 5.3 percent of Europe’s gross domestic product. Nevertheless, it is a sector that is severely underfunded, denounce associations and federations. The signatories of the appeal to Juncker recalled how he himself referred to artists and creatives, calling them the “jewels of Europe,” and how the president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, reiterated that culture, even before the economy, “is the glue that holds Europe together and must be the starting point of our efforts to revitalize our Union.” These are the reasons why culture workers “are calling on the Union to double the resources allocated for the successor program to Creative Europe, and to ensure that the sector also has access to other sources of European funding.”

These concerns were taken seriously by the European Parliament, which made them its own: It was in the fall of 2018 that an official report compiled by the Culture Committee, highlighting “the chronic underfunding reserved for culture in the Union’s multiannual financial frameworks,” insisted on suggesting that the Budget Committee "double the funding for the Creative Europe program (?2.806 billion in constant prices for the period 2021-2027), in addition to cross-programme spending on culture reaching at least 1 percent in the next programming period." The doubling was approved at the end of March, but the final word will be up to the new Parliament that will be constituted these days.

If the Creative Europe plan reaps only crumbs from the European budget, better is not going with the items allocated to culture under the Structural Funds. Heritage represents another significant chapter of EU policies, the importance of which is explicitly recognized in Article 2 of the Lisbon Treaty, which states that the European Union “shall respect the richness of its cultural and linguistic diversity and shall ensure that Europe’s cultural heritage is safeguarded and enhanced.” After all, consider that the European Union alone holds 46 percent of the sites on the World Heritage List. And it is the case to reiterate what benefits are guaranteed by cultural heritage, highlighted in ten key points in the report Cultural Heritage counts for Europe, compiled in 2015 by an international research group composed of several national and supranational associations (from Europa Nostra to The Heritage Alliance, from Heritage Europe to the International Center for Conservation “Raymond Lemaire” of the Catholic University of Leuven): improved attractiveness for investment of regions, cities, towns, villages, rural areas; increased tourism development; job creation; support for creativity, innovation, new ideas, solutions to problems, interpretation of the past; returns from investment also as a tax generator for public institutions that benefit from both heritage-related activities and induced activities; regeneration of the areas on which the heritage stands; ability to be part of the solution to the challenges posed by climate change; improvement of the quality of life; stimulus for education; a factor in building social capital and aiding pathways to social cohesion, participation, civic engagement and integration.

As far as the structural funds are concerned, the situation is better than in the Creative Europe framework, but the figures are still not very high: the 2014-2020 framework has budgeted just under 350 billion euros, of which 4.3 billion euros is invested in category 94 (“protection, development and promotion of cultural heritage”) and 435 million in category 95 (“development and promotion of cultural heritage services”). We are just above 1.3 percent of the total funds, while we are around 0.5 percent if we evaluate the sum in relation to the total budget of the Union. To give an idea, category 94 ranks twenty-ninth in terms of allocated resources: in first place, with 13.3 billion euros, are funds for inclusion, followed by funds for getting young people into work (12.5 billion), funds for the promotion of clean urban transport (12.3 billion), investments for small and medium-sized enterprises (11.6 billion) and resources for access to work for the unemployed and inactive (11.2 billion). As far asItaly is concerned, the 2014-2020 framework provides funds for 32.5 billion euros: 706 million are reserved for category 94 (which in Italy is the twelfth largest in terms of amount of investment) and 114 million for category 95 (the three largest investment items for Italy are access to work for young people, with 2.7 billion euros, inclusion, 1.65 billion euros, and funds for the prevention of school dropout, 1.5 billion). So that’s 117 million euros that Italy receives each year, and that’s just under a tenth of the budget of our Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities. And Italy, moreover, is the second country that receives the most structural funds for culture: we are behind Poland, which received just over a billion euros, and ahead of Portugal, third with 526 million. Looking at the other major countries, the figures are markedly more modest: Spain received 288 million euros, France 232 and Germany 190. Moreover, if we look at the details of individual regions, we occupy the first and third positions on the podium, with the 241 million to Campania and 176 to Puglia (the investments for Italy are mainly concentrated in the south).

La spesa dell'Unione Europea per la cultura nei fondi europei di sviluppo regionale (in milioni di euro). Fonte: Commissione Europea
European Union spending on culture in European regional development funds (in millions of euros). Source: European Commission

In Italy there is no shortage of cases of good use of European regional development funds (ERDF), that part of the European structural funds allocated to individual regions, and which contain most of the resources allocated to culture. Thanks to the ERDF, it has been possible to co-finance several interventions: among examples, the redevelopment of the Pecci Center in Prato (which has been equipped with a new museum itinerary, a renovated green area, a bistro, a cinema and a bookshop); in Parma, the Abbey of Valserena (known to most as the Certosa of Stendhal) has been recovered, in Cesena it was possible to renovate the city cinema center of the Malatestian Library (the latter, moreover, is included in the Unesco heritage), in Piacenza the Roman section of the Civic Museums of Palazzo Farnese was set up, in Taranto the digitization project of the National Archaeological Museum was financed, (“MarTa 3.0”), the Villa of Mosaics in Spello was enhanced, redevelopment of the Civic Museums in Bassano del Grappa was initiated, and much more.

The establishment of a European Year of Cultural Heritage has certainly catalyzed attention to the issue, but it is not enough. It has been noted in several quarters (it is worth mentioning, for example, a further report on the approach to cultural heritage for Europe) how the ERDFs represent a useful and well-used tool in almost all of the European Union, but several problems remain: the meagreness of the resources granted to culture, the fact that in several countries of the Union cuts have been made to culture, the critical issues in terms of non-expenditure (Italy sometimes does not use the funds allocated to it, with the result that the sums risk being de-committed). And if culture is a priority for Europe, the newly constituted Parliament will have to address it with due attention and reserve for it the resources it deserves, which are being called for from many quarters and which Parliament itself is discussing for the next financial planning cycle.


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