White smoke from Brussels: Iliana Ivanova from Bulgaria will become the new EU Commissioner responsible for Cultural Heritage and HorizonEurope, amongst other tasks. She will succeed Mariya Gabriel, who resigned to form a new government coalition in Bulgaria last May. Ivanova’s appointment still needs approval from the European Parliament and she will face questioning from several committees.
Ivanova’s role as Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth will involve implementing the EU’s main research program, Horizon Europe. The initiative is the Commission’s flagship programme to support the cultural and audiovisual sectors in Europe, with a budget of €2,44B, and is an essential supporter of projects in the heritage sector. One of the most recent actions was the dedication of support to the safeguarding of Ukrainian culture and heritage.
Ivanova will also be responsible for the implementation of the New European Agenda for Culture, the promotion of creative industries and supporting the Creative Europe Programme. However, her term should be a short one, since the European elections in July 2024 mean that a new team of commissioners takes charge.
Before Ivanova is officially instated as commissioner, she needs to take one last hurdle. To make sure the Commission is appointing someone with the right competencies, a potential commissioner is questioned by the European Parliament. In Ivanova’s case, it means she will face the CULT (Culture and Education) and ITRE (Industry and Research). That will take place in autumn, after the summer holidays, Science Business reported.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen selected Ivanova based on her European experience, but also to maintain a balance of men and women in the college of commissioners. Ivanova has been a member of the European Court of Auditors since 2013 and previously served as Vice Chair of the Budgetary Control Committee in the European Parliament.
Von der Leyen stated in a press release: “Her experience is crucial in carrying forward the implementation of the EU’s flagship research programme, Horizon Europe, to enhance the performance of EU’s research spending and achieve a better impact on the ground.”
Given the fact that the Commission is expected to develop and publish a strategic plan for the second half of the €95.5 billion Horizon Europe research program, Ivanova’s experience with finances and budget control could be crucial.
Perhaps a good omen for the cultural sector is that Ivanova’s background might have given her an extra notion of the importance of cultural heritage: she hails from the Bulgarian city Stara Zagora, a city with a rich history with many cultural influences, starting from the 7th century BC.
The city is famous for its high density of Neolithic settlements in the area – including a ritual site of over 8000 years old – and the first copper factory in Europe and a large ore mining centre (both over 7000 years old). Under Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius the city, then named Ulpia Augusta Trayana, flourished resulting in the construction of buildings and the development of art and music.
After the Romans lost the battle of Beroe against the Goths, the city was sacked and rebuilt. Over the centuries, the town changed hands between Byzantine, Bulgarian and Ottoman rule.
Ivanova’s task to represent cultural heritage in Europe is certainly not an easy one given the short amount of time she has as a commissioner. Perhaps taking a look at the rich tapestry of European heritage in her home town might give her the inspiration to represent and defend the cultural sector.