Observations following the Hungarian EU Presidency Conference on Culture and EU 2020 (Budapest, 1st March 2011)

Creative economy
European Commission
European Union
Observations following the Hungarian EU Presidency Conference on Culture and EU 2020 (Budapest, 1st March 2011)

The pace and discussion at the conference did not reflect that it is now the 11th hour: the EU budget to carry out culture policy will be decided in the coming weeks. It will settle the fate of EU culture programmes (including the MEDIA programme) until 2020.

Unfortunately the captive and resilient audience composed mainly of national representatives from EU Member‘s ministries of culture was told by a high level EC official that stakeholders still had to develop the narratives to justify investment in culture.


Well I told myself that (angrily I must admit):

  • It took only 6 months for the EC’s DG Enterprise to develop a narrative to set up the European Creative Industry Alliance and finance pilot actions with Euro 8 million funding. It’s now been 4 years since the cultural agenda was adopted – arguing that the sector should still be looking for a narrative is just not possible.
  • Regions and cities as well as some States (such as Estonia and Finland which made the case brilliantly in Budapest) have developed wonderful narratives on the impact of culture investment.
  • We are still addressing culture policy as if Google, Apple, Amazon or Spotify did not exist.

I also remembered the words of former US Secretary of State Rumsfeld who predicted that the Central and Eastern Europeans would butt the asses of the complacent westerners. Well, in relation to culture policy they are failing in their duties. Sadly, culture is not a priority in the Eastern part of the old continent (except it seems in Estonia and its 1 million inhabitants plus Ragnar Siil). They should be told that China has made the development of culture and creative industries a policy priority to develop a service-based economy. Let’s hope that Polish ministers will show more leadership.

I also considered the current geopolitical situation in Europe which is now subject to powerful nationalist movements (in Belgium, Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Hungary and France). This puts European solidarity to the test. I propose a theme for an EU presidency conference on culture: Why do Europeans care so little about their neighbours’ culture? Why has Europe failed in stimulating intercultural dialogue on the continent? Can culture achieve what economic interdependence and monetary union obviously cannot? This would be a narrative worth reflecting on.


My conclusions from the Budapest conference:

    1. Perhaps it would be better to leave regions to drive EU policy on culture considering the rather passive way this is being addressed by EU Member States.
    2. The European Commission should have updated the study on the Economy of Culture of 2006 (with 2003 figures). Eurostat is clearly not ready (for months to come) and everybody is crying out for figures to make the case on the economic importance of CCIs.
    3. International conferences are an expensive way of encouraging social networking in particular when the same people meet 2 or 3 times a month in Brussels. Conferences should take place only if conclusions are aimed at driving a well defined EU political objective with concrete outcomes. This would ensure a better participation of industries and civil society.
    4. I propose that hot baths and spas are included in the list of activities pertaining to the culture industry. This is a great cultural tradition in Hungary, shared by other countries notably Finland, Estonia or Turkey!
    5. I will report to my staff that David Throsby (the king of culture economics) referred to our work in his presentation on our classification of culture and creative industries (2006 Study on the Economy of Culture in Europe); likewise numerous speakers referred to the KEA developed concept of culture-based creativity (2009 Study on the Impact of Culture on Creativity) and that the cabinet Vassiliou finds our work on China inspiring (this is already something ….).
    6. So this gives me the opportunity to thank my 20 colleagues or so at KEA which over the last 11 years have contributed not only to KEA’s credibility but also to shifting views on the importance of culture.
    7. Finally I lay a wager on the disappearance of the MEDIA programme and its folding into a culture and creative industry programme.


Philippe Kern
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