Culture and Heritage sectors rally in protest over proposed €40 million cut to Creative Europe

Creative Europe loose over 12 per cent of its 2024 budget if the cuts go through. Image: Canva

Over seventy organisations from the culture and creative sectors have signed a letter of concern regarding proposed funding cuts for Creative Europe. The programme, which supports the cultural sectors including heritage, faces a €40 million setback. That’s more than twelve per cent of the 2024 budget of Creative Europe. Pocket money for the EU, but a huge blow for culture and heritage.

The letter was sent at the start of September to the European ministers of Culture and Finance and EU top officials such as Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel. The organisations that signed it – including NEMO, European Cultural Foundation, Europeana Foundation, and Europa Nostra amongst others – urge the officials to ‘reconsider the current budget cut’ and ‘strengthen the Creative Europe programme for the year 2024 and in the future.’

“In light of multiple challenges it faces, Europe needs strong funding for culture, and a programme such as Creative Europe, which has shown how vital it is for European creativity, diversity and togetherness”, they conclude. If the proposal would be accepted, the 2024 budget would drop from €331 million to €291 million.

Pocket Money

The reason behind the proposed cut is one that many in Europe are all too familiar with. Due to the high inflation, the EU wants to spend less money in the upcoming years. One way to do this is to make adjustments in the so-called Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). This is the long-term budget of the EU. The current budget of €1,216 billion was decided in 2021 and should run till 2027. In comparison: the current Creative Europe budget makes up only 0,198 per cent of the overall MFF.

While the proposal looks to readjust the budget on other terrains as well, shrinking the Creative Europe budget is a strange move. “The proposed €40 million is pocket money for the EU. However, for Creative Europe and the culture and creative sectors this could have a big impact”, explains Gabriele Rosana, Policy Director at Culture Action Europe, who together with his colleagues coordinated the draft of the letter.

Investing more rather than less in culture is the best decision Europe can make

Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović – Europa Nostra

While the decision is not final yet, will heritage feel the consequences? “Heritage is in a similar position as other cultural sectors in the Creative Europe programme”, says Europa Nostra‘s Secretary General Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović. She is concerned, even though the cut is not a direct threat to safeguarding and conservation plans since these types of projects are often funded through different schemes.

“Less funding would mean fewer funding calls, which results in a decrease in projects, international cooperation and networks. Meanwhile, there is ample evidence that these networks are so important and valuable for culture, for heritage, and for Europe.”

Economy and Values

The news of the proposed cuts came as a big surprise to many. Quaedvlieg-Mihailović was no exception. “It is indeed very surprising, given the current state of Europe and the role heritage can play. In a time with war on our borders, and so many threats to democracy and key European values, support for culture and cultural heritage is vital”, she says.

Quaedvlieg-Mihailović during the first edition of the Belgrade Heritage Forum in May 2023. Europa Nostra is currently coordinating the European Heritage Hub pilot project, which is supported through Creative Europe. Image: Jovo Marjanovic via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Quaedvlieg-Mihailović points to the letter: “There we can see that heritage also has a significant economic role as well. Culture represents 4,4 per cent of the EU GDP, and we’re not even counting branches such as cultural tourism. However, the amount of funding available for culture is so small if you look at the total budget.”

She emphasizes that this shouldn’t only be an economic argument. “Cultural heritage is not only a sector but also a vector for cohesion, sustainability, promoting dialogue and respect. The support of Creative Europe allows for international cooperation that helps people realise that heritage and culture are not something national by definition. There are European layers to it as well, and that is precisely what we should highlight during these times. Investing more rather than less in culture is the best decision Europe can make for a better future for its citizens.”

No Justification

For Rosana, the news of the proposed cut was a surprise as well. “Earlier the Committee for Culture and Education even requested a €43 million increase of the budget”, he illustrates. The request was made for two reasons. First of all because of the success of Creative Europe: “It’s an oversubscribed programme. There are always more applications than calls, and the projects that do get selected are incredibly valuable for the culture and creative sectors.” It was also the reason why new Culture (and heritage) commissioner Iliana Ivanova recently made it clear that she does not see any cuts to Creative Europe as justified.

European Parliament still can pick out ‘red flags’ in the proposal. We expect they will act upon it

Gabriele Rosana – Policy Director Culture Action Europe

Secondly, additional funding was requested because of the current structure of funding Creative Europe, by ‘front-loading’ the budget. “This means that a third of the Creative Europe financial budget was spent during the first two years of calls for the programme.” It was done to help the culture and creative sectors battle the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The annual budgets would start to decrease already as of 2024. It would cause a double whammy for funding culture projects. “Imposing further cuts to an already decreasing budget will severely jeopardise the recovery efforts undertaken in the past years up until now”, the letter points out.

Ball in EU’s court

While these developments are worrying, Rosana emphasizes that the cuts are part of a proposal for now, and nothing is final yet. “The European Parliament still needs to review and pick out certain ‘red flags’ in the proposed budget changes.” In the past, they often backed the Creative Europe programme, and even argued for the increase of the budget in 2021. “We expect the Parliament will act upon it.” Quaedvlieg-Mihailović agrees: “As long as they haven’t voted on a final budget, the cut is not final yet.”

They remain hopeful given the overwhelming support and signatures the letter received. “It’s the same group of organisations that pleaded for a fair share (i.e., 2%) for culture in the EU’s Recovery Plans back in 2020″, says Rosana. “From visual media to journalist organisations, and from museums to heritage. Everyone rallied around this and knows we need to pull together.”

Quaedvlieg-Mihailović urges others to join in advocating for the importance of culture and heritage. “Let’s be honest, it’s not the first time culture is threatened with cuts. We’ll have to use our connections and network to make our voice clearly heard.” She reckons the upcoming European Heritage Summit in Venice organised by Europa Nostra – where European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas will join – would be a good place to send a strong message to Europe. “It’s important to join forces and amplify that voice for heritage.”

For now, it will take a bit of time to see how all the European institutes involved will respond, as they’ve just returned from their summer holidays. “We’ll see how the letter is received and wait for a response”, says Rosana. “And if needed, we’ll see what we can do as a follow-up action.”