ACP | Remarks at the opening of the 3rd edition of the European Culture Forum President Barroso

Thursday 07 November 2013

Speech - Remarks at the opening of the 3rd edition of the European Culture Forum

European Commission - SPEECH/13/872   04/11/2013


European Culture Forum/Brussels

4 November 2013

Mr Minister,

Dear Androulla,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear friends,

First let me thank Androulla Vassiliou and her team for organising this third edition of the European Culture Forum.

And it is always a pleasure for me to be here at the Bozar arts centre. The Bozar arts centre is now a very important hub of European culture. The last show here was precisely the War Requiem of Benjamin Britten, it reminds us precisely also what Europe is about; the need to put an end to wars in Europe. And I am happy to see today so many of you and diverse stakeholders to discuss the crucial role of culture in contributing to key European objectives.

As Europe is going through tough times, we know all too well how high the stakes are. This is about the future of our shared destiny. This is about the defence of our values and also our interests in an increasingly interconnected and competitive world.

In other words what is at stake is nothing less than our capacity to embrace the challenges of an ever-changing world while upholding the great culture of Europe that should always be with us. This is about a better life for all our citizens.

The reality is that the European Union happens not only through economic and political bonds but most importantly through people-to-people connections and through a fruitful blending of our cultural diversity.

Culture is, and always has been, the cement that binds Europe together. It is an essential part of the very foundations of our European project and must remain firmly entrenched in our ideals if we are to succeed in achieving a more united, a stronger and open Europe.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear friends,

Our European culture is a platform for dialogue among people with different socio-economic, ethnic backgrounds, to build communities and overcome prejudices. Evidence shows that cultural participation supports resilience and social cohesion, and thus is essential to revitalise our societies.

Culture is also a tool of diplomacy. It is about connecting with people all over the world. It is about universal values and inspirations. Indeed Europe's global influence also lies in our cultural openness to other societies, our openness to the world. And indeed we can today speak – and many people speak about European soft power as a pole of attraction based to a large extent on our languages, on our culture, on our history.

Let's also not forget that culture is a key economic tool. I say that with prudence, because as you know I am one of those who believe that culture is a goal, an end in itself. In the sense that culture is a way for people - I mean not abstract people, every man, every woman, every child - a way of self-fulfilment of the persons. That is why I sometimes resist to make economic associations with culture, because it would be a mistake to consider culture just a means to achieve economic growth. But there is, and I think we should namely in these times of crisis highlight the importance of the economic dimension, because it is indeed an important sector of our economy; culture. The cultural and creative sectors already contribute significantly to Europe's economy, they have the potential of contributing even more. The culture and creative industries account for up to 4.5% of the European Gross Domestic Product and for more than 8 million jobs, which have been resisting the financial crisis better than other sectors of our economies. I know that just today, after this initial panel, you are going to discuss precisely this issue; how to measure the value of culture. Avoiding any kind of pragmatist or instrumentalist approach, I think it is very important indeed to explain to stakeholders all over Europe what can be the effective contribution of culture to growth, to employment, but also to other important goals in our societies in terms of cohesion, in terms of avoiding prejudices and about some of the most important societal challenges we face in our societies.

And creative sectors play indeed a crucial role for the sustainable development and social cohesion of our regions and cities. Culture is a driver for urban and regional regeneration. The European Capitals of Culture, for instance, have repeatedly shown what a city and its surrounding territory can achieve in terms of growth and jobs by embedding culture and the arts in their long-term development strategy.

And we want to encourage all levels of policy governance – at local, regional, national and European level – to develop integrated strategies in support of the cultural and creative sectors. I think this is one of the most promising areas we have today. Precisely when I meet the Committee of the Regions, when I meet leaders at the regional or local level all over Europe, I see that now they are giving a much higher priority to the programmes of culture. And this is important namely now that you are going to start a new financial period, a new programme in terms of the 7-year budget, where of course many of the goals that we are trying to achieve, can be achieved through our specific programmes for culture, but others can be also achieved by the instruments we develop in our cohesion policy at regional and local level.

I have paid and I am paying very special attention to culture inside the European Commission, specifically to our culture and media programmes, which should be integrated in a new Creative Europe programme, for 2014 until 2020.

The Commission as you know has proposed a budget for the new Creative Europe programme of €1.8 billion. The agreed budget stands at 1.46 billion, which represents 9% increase of the current funding levels. So I think that it is important to note that in what was as you know a very difficult negotiation, we achieved - and I want once again to thank Androulla Vassiliou, the Commissioner responsible, for her contribution - we were able to achieve also thanks to the support of the European Parliament an important increase of the budget that could in fact, as other parts of the budget, face some cuts. Not only it was not cut, we have some increase of 9%.

Our aim is to help artists, cultural professionals and cultural organisations so that they can work across borders and ensure that their works reach as many people as possible. Creative Europe will also contribute to improving access to finance through the creation of a new loan guarantee facility.

Indeed spending on culture is not a luxury but a sound investment and not only for the distant future. Culture is not a "nice to have", but a "need to have". If Europe is to emerge stronger from these difficult times, we need more than ever to stimulate a new model of growth, underpinned by knowledge and creativity, research and innovation as its key drivers. Cutting spending in such key areas would be exactly the wrong thing to do. This would be the shortest way to lower growth and fewer jobs in the future.

Of course, we believe that correction of the imbalances in public finances is important - in some of our countries it is indeed indispensable and urgent - because we have seen that growth fuelled by debt is simply not sustainable. But we have always said smart fiscal consolidation, that is the policy of the Commission. We believe it is not smart to cut in culture, to cut in science, to cut in research, to cut in what can be the sources of growth in the future, of job creation for our young people.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Clearly today's Europe is very different from what it was when this project as European Communities started in the fifties, or in 1989 when we saw the fall of the Berlin wall and the first moves for a true unification of Europe. Today, Europe has a truly continental dimension and a global outreach. And we are also different in the world because the forces of globalisation, combined with information technology, have resulted in a new dimension of interdependence that affects every European country and every European citizen.

We live in a world where ideas and communication flow at the speed of a mouse click, a world where we need to think and act differently. It is with new ideas, new concepts and new projects that we will rise to the challenges facing us, and will be able to build a brighter future.

We also need, in this different world of the beginning of the 21st century, notably for the new generations that does not really identify itself with the founding narrative of Europe, - because they don't remember the times where in fact peace was not a given, where democracy was not a given - we need to continue to tell the story of Europe. As I said before, this is like a book, we have to pursue beyond the first pages, even if the first pages were extremely meaningful and beautiful pages, even if the founding raison d'être of the European community and the founding reason of the European Union remains of course valid. This is and this will remain about peace, reconciliation, democracy and human rights. Let us stay loyal to that vision that was inspired by the founding fathers.

But we have to continue our narrative, to continue to write the book of the present and of the future of a Europe that should be proud of its values and its achievements, open to changes and to criticisms as well, but also confident in the future.

This is what the New Narrative for Europe initiative aims to achieve, precisely by giving artists, intellectuals and scientists a space for a much-needed reflection about Europe's present and future. It should take into account the evolving reality of the European continent and highlight that the European Union is not solely about economy, but also about a common cultural heritage and shared values in a globalized world. Globalization is indeed key, I believe this to a large extend the driver for a stronger Europe in the future.

And we need European citizens to regain trust in Europe, to make the case for Europe. This means that we need people who have the courage to stand for Europe, explain what we are doing together, criticise what they want to criticise but have a positive message for Europe that will contribute to driving change.

We need you, we need all the representatives of the arts and culture, because culture is the thread that links us together in our diversity and which allows us to take ownership of our shared European destiny.

And let me conclude by thanking you all for your contributions to this European common destiny and by wishing you that your genuine European commitment will be a source of inspiration to many all over Europe.

I wish you a successful conference. I thank you for your attention.