In a growing and geographically-expanding EU, cultural commonalities and increasing disparities are both bound to be realities that the Union as a whole must come to terms with and accommodate. The commonalities define European-ness whereas the disparities usually define and identify individuals and social groups with a Member State. If channelled in the right directions and using the cultural commonalities as a basis for intercultural dialogue, such cultural disparities have the potential of giving Europe its competitive edge. Channelled wrongly, however, they may also undermine the principles of cohesion, solidarity and understanding that the Union is built on.

Culture is a relatively new sphere of action for the European Union, at least from a legal standpoint: the legal basis for EU action in this field was only introduced in 1992 with the Maastricht Treaty. This action is aimed at encouraging and supporting cooperation within Europe in order to bring the European common cultural heritage to the fore.

Culture-based development has relevance for regions in all stages of development – in the ‘convergence’ regions, where support for infrastructural development may continue to be needed, but also in both convergence and ‘competitiveness’ regions where the infrastructure and other local resources can be exploited to enhance the comparative advantages of the local economy and to stimulate creativity and enterprise.

Culture-based interventions may be financed under the European Union Cohesion Policy 2007-2013 period under all three objectives of Cohesion Policy (convergence; regional competitiveness and employment; and European territorial cooperation) and through two of the Structural Funds (European Fund for Regional Development-EFRD and European Social Fund-ESF). Member States are responsible for the management of Structural Funds in line with the National strategic reference frameworks and the Operational Programmes. In the 2007-2013 programming period, there are no thematic Operational Programmes dedicated to culture in Member States and culture is integrated into different horizontal priorities.

Other culture-based interventions by the European Commission target the ‘cultural and creative industries’.  In many regions the creative sector is rapidly growing, outperforming other more established sectors in terms of growth in new businesses, turnover and employment. In many instances, the absolute size of the sector now exceeds that of a range of traditional industries. Many cities, regions and some Member States have some form of creative sector strategy; the focus and detail of this strategy, however, vary considerably. In the most developed regions, the promotion of the creative sector is part and parcel of a strategy for knowledge-based industries.

In addition to its inherent dynamism and growth potential, the creative sector has a number of other attractive qualities from a local development perspective. It makes use of a range of skills at a series of different levels, it tends to be socially responsible and inclusive, and it usually involves ‘clean’, environmentally friendly processes. In more technical terms, creative activities often generate positive externalities in the areas where they are located. Furthermore, their openness and interaction with other activities give rise to agglomeration and cluster effects and they tend to generate a high proportion of domestic total value added.

The European Commission encourages culture in two ways, namely through:

  • policies, chiefly cultural policy, but also by mainstreaming the cultural dimension in other areas of European Union interest such as for instance in competition or industrial policy; and
  • financial support, primarily via the Culture Programme (2007-2013), but also via other actions such as, for example, within the framework of regional policy.

The two aspects are closely linked as the Cultural Programme has been designed to serve policy development in the cultural field and ultimately to promote common cultural values aiming to enhance the cultural heritage shared by Europe’s people.

The Programme has been established to enhance the cultural area shared by Europeans, which is based on a common cultural heritage, through the development of cooperation activities among cultural operators from countries taking part in the Programme, with a view to encouraging the emergence of European citizenship.

The Programme is aimed at three specific objectives:

  • promotion of the trans-national mobility of people working in the cultural sector;
  • support for the trans-national circulation of cultural and artistic works and products;
  • promotion of inter-cultural dialogue.

The Programme has a flexible, interdisciplinary approach and is focused on the needs expressed by cultural operators during the public consultations leading to its design. The activities supported within the Programme belong to three main typologies, which correspond to the strands of the Programme. A short description of each strand is provided below.

Cultural organisations are given support for projects to work together across borders and to create and implement cultural and artistic activities.

The thrust of this strand is to help organisations, such as theatres, museums, professional associations, research centres, universities, cultural institutes and public authorities from different countries participating in the Programme to cooperate so that different sectors can work together and extend their cultural and artistic reach across borders.

This strand is divided into five categories, as detailed below.

  • Multi-annual cooperation projects;
  • Cooperation projects;
  • Literary translation projects;
  • Cooperation projects with Third Countries;
  • Support for European cultural festivals.

Cultural organisations working, or wanting to work, at a European level in the field of culture can receive support for their operating costs. The grant awarded under this strand is designed to assist with operating costs incurred by these beneficiary organisations in implementing their work programmes. This profoundly differs from any other grants, which may be awarded under the other strands of the Programme.

Three categories of organisations are eligible under this strand:

  1. Ambassadors (e.g. orchestras, choirs, theatre groups and dance companies);
  2. Advocacy networks;
  3. Structured dialogue platforms

Support from the European Union is available towards the promotion and provision of the Culture Programme to artists and cultural organisations. The Programme additionally supports the collection and dissemination of information and activities aimed at maximising the impact of cultural projects. It promotes the exchange of experience and good practice and the dissemination of information concerning the Programme as well as trans-European cultural cooperation in the broad sense.

The Culture Programme also supports initiatives aiming at increasing people’s sense of belonging to the same community, while creating awareness of Europe’s cultural diversity, and contributing to intercultural dialogue. Some of these actions are:

  1. the European Capitals of Culture;
  2. the European Border Breaker Award for Popular Music;
  3. the European Union Prize for Literature;
  4. the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architectureand the European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage.

The Directorate-General for Education and Culture is responsible for the Programme and directly manages some of its activities. Responsibility for most activities, however, is delegated to the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency, which is also based in Brussels, Belgium. The Executive Agency operates under the supervision of the Commission.

The Programme has a total budget of EUR 400 million for the 2007-2013 period. Over the whole duration of the Programme, approximately 77% of the total budget is intended to be devoted to Strand 1, 10% to Strand 2 and around 5% to Strand 3. The remaining appropriations are allocated to cover the Programme’s general, administrative and technical expenses.

Cultural and creative industries are in a strategic position to promote smart, sustainable and inclusive growth in all European Union regions and cities, and thus contribute fully to the Europe 2020 Strategy, which is the European Union’s growth strategy for the coming decade. While some European Union regions have been very good at tapping into this extraordinary potential as a way to promote socio-economic development – including through the use of European Union Structural Funds, it appears that many others have not been making most of this potential.

Equinox aims to assist all those interested in developing projects or receiving financial support for their permanent activities within the next European Union Cohesion Programme or the Culture Programme. We can help organisations understand both the objectives and the strands of the Programmes and therefore the types of activities that can (or cannot) be supported. Through our experienced consultants, we are also in a position to give detailed information on what is needed to apply and what level of grant can be offered.

For more information about our Culture services, please contact us here.