European Union

International Cultural Policy in the Context of the European Union

In line with the relevant EU provisions, cultural affairs fall under the scope of national jurisdiction. It is stated in the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (under Article 167) that the Union shall contribute to the flowering of the cultures of the Member States, while respecting their national and regional diversity and at the same time bringing the common cultural heritage to the fore. The EU shall promote and support action taken by the Member States. The Union and the Member States shall also foster cooperation with third countries and the competent international organisations in the sphere of culture, particularly the Council of Europe.

The European Agenda for Culture

The Agenda for Culture endorsed by the European Council in 2007 defined a new political framework for cultural matters at the EU level. It pursues a dual goal. On the one hand, the European Agenda for Culture strives to promote coherence, efficiency and visibility of the Union’s cultural activities. On the other hand, it aims to ensure that the best possible use be made of the cultural and creative sectors’ potential with regard to small and medium-sized enterprises, thus contributing to achieving the goals set out in the Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs and its successor, the Europe 2020 strategy.

The European Agenda for Culture is guided by three sets of objectives:
- Promotion of cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue through fostering cultural diversity in the EU by, for instance, seeking to enhance the cross-border mobility of artists and workers in the cultural sector as well as the cross-border dissemination of works of art.
- Promotion of culture as a catalyst for creativity that makes a valuable contribution to promoting business in Europe and fostering the Union’s competitiveness. 
- Promotion of culture as a vital element in the Union’s international relations: underlining the EU’s commitment to developing a new and more active role for Europe in international relations and to integrating the cultural dimension as a vital element in Europe’s relationships with partner countries and regions. 

The European Agenda for Culture also strives to ensure that adequate account be taken of the promotion of culture and cultural diversity in all decisions or proposals that include a relevant regulation or have an impact on budgets.

The new 2014-2020 EU programme for culture and audio-visuals “Creative Europe” was launched on 1 January 2014. With a total budget of € 1.46 billion over the seven year period, the framework programme will support about 250.000 cultural and audio-visual professionals and organisations, around 2000 cinemas, 800 films and 4500 literary translations. 31% of the total budget, i.e. € 454 million are allocated to the Culture Sub-programme. 56%, i.e. € 819 million go to the Sub-programme MEDIA and 13%, i.e. €190 million are allocated to the cross sectoral strand. The new Financial Guarantee Facility, operational as of 2016, will make it easier for small operators to access bank loans of more than €750 million. The financial guarantee will be managed by the European Investment Fund (EIF). The EIF will work with a network of European banks which are willing to create a portfolio of loans specifically tailored to the needs of the cultural and creative sectors.

General aims of the programme are:
a)     To foster the European cultural and linguistic diversity
b)     To strengthen the competitiveness of the cultural and creative sectors with a view to promoting smart, sustainable and inclusive growth

New objectives are:
a)     To support capacity building and training in order to operate transnationally
b)     To promote the transnational circulation of cultural and creative works  as well as audience building in Europe and beyond
c)     to strengthen the financial capacity of the cultural and creative sector and of small and medium enterprises in particular
d)     to support transnational policy cooperation in order to foster policy development, innovation, audience building and new business models

Culture’s role in the European Union’s external relations

The Member States and the Commission also agreed to cooperate more closely in the field of culture and external relations. Since the adoption of the Cultural Agenda for Europe a new strategic framework has evolved in which culture is an integral part of the EU’s public diplomacy as well as a meaningful area of cooperation. The new agenda for culture has also led to the establishment of a Member States' expert group for the development of a visible common EU strategy on culture and external relations.

Clearly, culture is increasingly perceived as a strategic factor in terms of fostering political, social and economic development in line with the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, ratified by the EU in 2006. The implementation of the convention requires new action as there is an increasing need to ensure the representation of European interests in the culture sector in international trade and policy discussions.

The EU supports cultural cooperation between EU members as well as with non-governmental organisations. For example, due to The Protocol on Cultural Cooperation with the Republic of Korea, an EU-Korea Committee on Cultural Cooperation committee became part of the bilateral Free Trade Agreement.

European Capitals of Culture

In 1985 the European ministers responsible for cultural affairs took a Council decision to launch the “European City of Culture”. The programme was proposed and initiated by the former Minister for Culture of Greece, Melina Mercouri. In honour of its founder, the European Commission named the € 1.5m funding the Melina Mercouri Prize. In 1999, the “European City of Culture” initiative was integrated in the Community framework and renamed “European Capital of Culture” (ECC). In order to become a ECC, the selected host Member States publish a call for applications six years before the title-year. The initiative has, to date, been awarded to more than 50 cities across the Union. A new, post-2019 framework for the initiative has already been adopted by the European Parliament and Council in April 2014. Due to this new framework, cities in a candidate country or potential candidate for EU membership can also hold the title as of 2021. European Capitals of Culture have already been designated until 2018. The list includes:

  • 2014: Umeå (Sweden) and Rīga (Latvia)
  • 2015: Mons (Belgium) and Plzeň (Czech Republic)
  • 2016: Donostia-San Sebastián (Spain) and Wrocław (Poland)
  • 2017: Aarhus (Denmark) and Paphos (Cyprus)
  • 2018: Valetta (Malta) und Leeuwarden (Netherlands)


European Heritage Label

In 2012, the Commission and Member States introduced the European Heritage Label (EHL). The initiative was designed to highlight heritage sites that celebrate and symbolise European history, culture, and integration. It designates sites of historical importance to Europe and the EU, which are chosen on the basis of their symbolic value. Moreover, the aim of EHL is to help citizens to explore and increase their understanding of Europe and to encourage an intercultural exchange. In 2014, the EHL was awarded to four sites in urban and rural areas including the Archaeological Site of Carnuntum in Austria.