By Maciej W. Hofman
Policy Officer at Culture Policy Unit, Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture (DG EAC) of the European Commission
The impact of culture for the local development in the EU: policies, funding, future prospects
It goes without saying that regions and cities in the European Union highly value their culture and cultural heritage. Local cultural heritage as well as cultural and creative sectors are also a vital asset for regional economic competitiveness, while constituting a key element of the image and identity of cities and regions, both from the perspective of the locals and the visitors.
What is the basis for the EU’s action in the field of culture? While individual Member States as well as local and regional authorities remain responsible for their own cultural policies, the European Union is there to help address common challenges and “bring the common cultural heritage to the fore”, as stated by article 167 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
What about EU Cohesion Policy then, the main EU instrument for reducing disparities across its regions and cities that accounts for roughly one third of the overall EU budget in 2014-2020? The Article 174 of the Treaty clearly states that the EU’s cohesion policy aims to strengthen economic and social cohesion by reducing disparities in the level of development between regions.
Against this backdrop, the European Union can play a strategic role in culture and local development topics and, as it shall be demonstrated in this article, this theme is present in EU strategic documents, but also in funded projects, EU-wide collaborations and peer-learning exchanges. The notions of “local” and “European” are also interconnected when it comes to future perspectives of the European Union and its upcoming 2021-2027 budget. Culture, local development, EU – here today, here tomorrow, here (hopefully) the day after tomorrow.
Culture and local development and EU strategic documents
When looking at key strategic EU cultural policy documents, we can see that the New European Agenda for Culture proposed by the Commission in 2018 acknowledges that EU cities and regions are at the forefront of culture-led development and constitute natural partners for experimentation, anticipating trends and exploring models of social and economic innovation. The role of the local context is also underlined in the Work Plan for Culture 2019-2022 of the Council of the European Union, i.e. a document adopted by EU culture ministries collaborating together. The Member States’ representatives are keen on recognizing that the EU should acknowledge the role of culture at local level, also in relation to topics such as architecture or the links between culture and social cohesion. More recently, the Member States have also demonstrated a keen interest on the links between culture and Sustainable Development Goals – as exemplified, for instance, by the Council Resolution on the Cultural Dimension of Sustainable Development that was adopted in November 2019 under the Finnish Presidency of the EU Council.
Also during the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018, the topic of cultural heritage and local development has been prominent. Among over 23,000 events organised in 2018, reaching more than 12.8 million participants altogether, it goes without saying that quite a large number of them focused on the local dimension and stories related to cultural heritage. As a result, it does not come as a surprise that the European Framework for Action on Cultural Heritage, put forward by the Commission at the end of 2018 as a “legacy document” of the Year, also features a number of specific actions that are relevant for cities and regions (quite a few of the intiatives mentioned later in this article are also featured in the Framework). The suggested initiatives look at, among others, regenerating cities and regions through cultural heritage, promoting adaptive re-use of heritage buildings as well as balancing access to cultural heritage with sustainable cultural tourism and natural heritage.
EU funding for cultural infrastructure and cultural projects
Regions and cities can benefit from a number of EU programmes, also supporting culture in local and regional development. The funding for this can come not only from Creative Europe, the only EU programme designed specifically to support EU’s cultural and creative sectors, but also from a number of other programmes, supporting research (Horizon 2020), Lifelong learning (Erasmus+) or SMEs and entrepreneurship (COSME) to name just a few.
Most importantly however, when discussing local development and culture, the funding for local cultural projects – including infrastructure or heritage restoration endeavours – comes from the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) under the EU Cohesion Policy mentioned earlier in the introduction.
The numbers speak for themselves – in 2014-2020, around 4.7 billion EUR are foreseen for culture in the European Regional Development Fund – ERDF (part of ESIF). To this figure, we should add possibly a large amount from almost 1 billion EUR from ERDF devoted to “access to public sector information (including open data e-culture, digital libraries, e-content and e-tourism)” that can also be used by cultural operators and organisations. Finally, European Social Fund, European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and even European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (all part of ESIF) can also have their role to play in supporting culture and cultural heritage in the local context – from projects aimed at supporting cultural cooperation to boost social inclusion to specific projects for rural or maritime heritage (thus adding possibly a few more billion EUR to this overall figure of EU funding for culture locally). By means of comparison of the “financial” scale, the Creative Europe budget for the 2014-2020 period accounts for 1.46 billion EUR.
EU helping cities, regions and local actors to learn from each other
The European Union can help not only by financing projects and collaborations, but also creating fertile ground for mutual exchanges and learning opportunities between local stakeholders from across Europe on how to best integrate culture in their local policies and actions.
A good example of a successful project here is the peer-learning project Culture for Cities and Regions, funded by Creative Europe, which examined selected existing cultural initiatives and their impact on local and regional development. Outputs of this project, carried out in 2015-2017, included a catalogue of 70 case studies, study visits to 15 cities/regions, and expert coaching for 10 cities/regions. This project, successfully implemented by a consortium led by Eurocities in collaboration with the European Regions Research and Innovation Network (ERRIN) and KEA European Affairs, not only allowed to produce the abovementioned results, but also fostered contacts between local authorities and actors, inspiring each other to start new ambitious projects and initiatives on the ground.
Another interesting example is the European Creative Hubs Network that was co-founded by Creative Europe in 2016-2018, 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. This project, back then administered by the British Council in collaboration with a number of associated hubs, later led to the establishment of a fully fledged network financed directly by its members. A great example of how local actors can not only get connected thanks to EU funding, but also continue to work together beyond the project’s lifespan!
In fact, many of the EU initiatives share the underlying goal of mutual learing among cultural operators, and the initiatives targeting the local context are no exception. Let’s take for instance the European Capitals of Culture, one of the longest running – and probably one of the most recognizeable – EU initiatives devoted to culture on the local level. The initiative that turned 35 in 2020, has been allowing cities to celebrate the diversity of their cultures and involve their residents in those celebrations. The celebratory factor is of course important, but does not end here – since being a cultural capital means attempting to integrate culture into long-term development plans, while learning from the experience of other cities.
Being a European Capital of Culture is by no means an easy feat – and this is also why one of the new initiatives of the Commission as part of this action is to better assist cities to learn from their mutual experiences, joining the vibrant “learning community” of Europe’s culture capitals – past, present and future.
Prospects for the future? Future EU budget? New research questions?
The previous parts of this article only showed a tip of an iceberg of the complex topic of culture-led local development in the EU, but what are then the prospects for the future? Let me just point to a few of them and share with the readers where we are likely to see more “EU action” in the nearest and possibly also more distant future.
Firstly, the question of the future Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027 and the EU programmes that we are likely to see. Although they are part of larger puzzle and negotiations, if all of these pieces come into place, we shall be able to see a new and ambitious Creative Europe, offering more dedicated support to specific cultural sub-sectors such as architecture, cultural heritage, design or performing arts. The future support to individual artistic and cultural mobility in the Creative Europe programme could also be a great tool for local and regional authorities – just think about how this could help local artistic residencies and stimulate direct cultural exchanges between cities and regions across Europe!
Other than Creative Europe, we shall also hope that the new Multiannual Financial Framework and Next Generation EU will allow cultural and creative sectors to benefit from a range of other programmes, including InvestEU, Digital Europe, new Horizon Europe and, of course, European Structural and Investment Funds. The Commission proposal for Cohesion Policy for the 2021-2027 period provides possibilities for investment in culture, provided it contributes to the relevant policy objectives. Culture is also specifically mentioned under future Cohesion Policy objective 5 ‘A Europe closer to citizens by fostering the sustainable and integrated development of urban, rural and coastal areas and local initiatives’. On 27 May 2020, the Commission proposed to adjust its proposal for the future cohesion policy programmes, in order to respond to the heavy impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on many regions, including on their tourism and cultural sectors. A specific objective on ‘enhancing the role of culture and tourism in economic development, social inclusion and social innovation’ is added under Policy Objective 4 ‘A more social Europe implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights’. Both of these objectives thus very clearly link to the issue of local development and culture.
Secondly, the question of various types of territories (urban, non-urban, rural, peri-urban), their connections as well as finding good ways of working together and exchanging shall also become more relevant in years to come. In 2020, within the framework of Voices of Culture, the European Commission structured dialogue with the civil society in the field of culture, a group working on the topic of ‘The role of culture in non-urban areas of the European Union’ was convened. 35 organisations from across Europe to address the question of what the EU can do to promote culture in the peri-urban spaces (outside of urban centres), the suburbs and the periphery. All of this at the moment when the European Union – and the Commission – is in the process of rethinking their long-term vision for rural areas. So I would definitely say “watch this space” for more yet to come!
Thirdly, a large number of EU initiatives exploring specific topics related to local development and culture or experimenting with innovative ways of working together. This spans from projects looking at how we can collect local data and “measure” culture locally (such as Cultural and Creative Cities Monitor of the Joint Research Centre, launched in 2017 and updated in 2019, or the joint policy project of the Commission with the OECD Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs, Regions and Cities on cultural and creative sectors and local development), finding good ways of working together across the EU on complex urban-related topics (Urban Agenda for the EU and its Partnership on Culture and Cultural Heritage, which shall start its Action Plan in 2021) or looking at socio-economic impact of cultural heritage investment at the territorial level (applied research on Cultural Heritage as a Source of Societal Well-being in European Regions – HERIWELL, financed by ESPON 2020 Cooperation Programme, and co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund).
Peer-learning among local cultural stakeholders and local authorities, financed by the EU, is also here to stay to experiment with new ways of working together. Be it in the context of Cultural and Creative Spaces and Cities, policy project co-funded by the Creative Europe programme that seeks to develop new ways for cities and regions to bring together the public administration and the cultural sector to co-create public policies (launched in 2018 and coming to an end in 2021), or Cultural Heritage in Action, a “spiritual successor” of the previously mentioned Culture for Cities and Regions and an important action for local authorities from the European Framework for Action on Cultural Heritage.
Looking at the future programmes and initiatives, it is certain that the EU offers opportunities and will continue to offer opportunities to local stakeholders when it comes to culture and local development. The question remains how to best take advantage of them on the local level and how to ensure that the information about a number of useful tools that exist reaches the local level. But this is yet another topic and possibly a departure point for yet another reflection.
Questions for further discussion
- How to best take advantage of EU opportunities for culture and local development in relation to COVID-19 situation and difficulties that cultural sectors are experiencing?
- How to best reconcile the perspectives and needs of different types of territories as well as territories that present different contexts (social, economic, demographic, historical, geographical, etc.) across the EU?
- How to best communicate the existing opportunities and make sure they answer the local needs of cultural sectors?
- How to collect data and measure the impact of culture-led local development strategies across the EU so that the resulting data is comparable?
Maciej Hofman works as Policy Officer at the European Commission since 2015, where he is responsible for managing initiatives related to the role of culture in cities and regions, access to culture via digital means, as well as support to cultural and creative sectors. In his current role, he is a frequent speaker and panelist at events across Europe, devoted to the role of culture in cities and regions in the EU, as well as the EU funding for culture.
Before coming to Brussels, he worked at the Polish Ministry of Culture, British Council offices in Warsaw and Paris, a French e-learning start-up and as a freelance editor and translator for cultural NGOs, film festivals and digital projects. Maciej holds degrees from the College of Europe and the University of Warsaw, he has also studied at Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris III.
 European Union, Consolidate version of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, OJ C 326, 26.10.2012, https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=celex%3A12012E%2FTXT
 Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the European Council, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions – A New European Agenda for Culture, COM/2018/267 final, 22.5.2018, https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=COM%3A2018%3A267%3AFIN
 Council conclusions on the Work Plan for Culture 2019-2022, Official Journal of the European Union, 2018/C 460/10, 21.12.2018, https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:52018XG1221%2801%29
 Resolution of the Council of the European Union and the Representatives of the Governments of the Members States meeting within the Council on the Cultural Dimension of Sustainable Development, Official Journal of the European Union, 2019/C 410/01, 6.12.2019, https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=OJ:C:2019:410:FULL
 Report from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on the implemenation, results and overall assessment of the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018, COM(2019) 548 final, 28.10.2019, https://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regdoc/rep/1/2019/EN/COM-2019-548-F1-EN-MAIN-PART-1.PDF
 Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture (European Commission), European Framework for Action on Cultural Heritage, Publications Office of the EU, 27.05.2019, https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/5a9c3144-80f1-11e9-9f05-01aa75ed71a1
 Find our more about this programme here: https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/erasmus-plus/node_en
 European Structural and Investment Funds Data of the European Commission, „Yes, the EU protects and promotes cultural heritage”, accessed 14.10.2020, https://cohesiondata.ec.europa.eu/stories/s/Yes-The-EU-supports-cultural-heritage/9gyi-w56p/
 Some of the project outcomes (case studies’ catalogue and reports from study visits) can be accessed here http://www.cultureforcitiesandregions.eu/culture/Library/Catalogue_practices_cfcr and here http://www.cultureforcitiesandregions.eu/culture/Library/study_visits
 Find out more about the i-Portunus pilot projects that are providing individual cultural mobility grants in the current 2014-2020 Creative Europe programme, to be replicated in 2021-2027: https://www.i-portunus.eu/
 Find out more about the Commission proposal for the new 2021-2027 budget on the following website: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_940
 Find out more about the Voices of Culture as well as this specific group here: https://voicesofculture.eu/2019/10/10/the-role-of-culture-in-non-urban-areas-of-the-european-union/
 See the recent information from the Commission on the request for public feedback: https://ec.europa.eu/info/news/european-commission-seeks-feedback-its-long-term-vision-rural-areas-2020-sep-07_en
 The Joint Research Centre Cultural and Creative Cities Monitor is available online here: https://composite-indicators.jrc.ec.europa.eu/cultural-creative-cities-monitor/
 Find out more about the Project on the following OECD website: http://www.oecd.org/cfe/leed/culture-and-creative-sectors.htm