The European Union’s action in the field of culture supplements Member States’ cultural policy in various areas: for example, the preservation of the European cultural heritage, cooperation between various countries’ cultural institutions, and the promotion of mobility among those working creatively. The cultural sector is also affected by provisions of the Treaties which do not explicitly pertain to culture.

Legal basis

The Treaty of Lisbon places great importance on culture: the preamble to the Treaty on European Union (TEU) explicitly refers to ‘drawing inspiration from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe’. One of the EU’s key aims, as specified in the Treaty, is to ‘respect its rich cultural and linguistic diversity, and […] ensure that Europe’s cultural heritage is safeguarded and enhanced’ (Article 3 TEU). Article 6 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) states that the EU’s competences in the field of culture are to ‘carry out actions to support, coordinate or supplement the actions of the Member States’.

Article 167 provides further details on EU action in the field of culture: the EU must contribute to the flowering of the cultures of the Member States, while respecting their national and regional diversity and bringing the common cultural heritage to the fore. Action by the Union should encourage cooperation between Member States and support and supplement their action in improving the knowledge and dissemination of the culture and history of the European peoples, conserving and safeguarding cultural heritage of European significance, fostering non-commercial cultural exchanges and artistic and literary creation, including in the audiovisual sector. The Union and Member States may also foster cooperation with third countries and the competent international organisations. Respect for, and the promotion of the diversity of, European cultures need to be taken into account when taking action under other provisions of the Treaty.

Article 13 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union stipulates that ‘the arts and scientific research shall be free of constraint’. Article 22 of the same charter lays down the requirement that ‘the EU shall respect cultural, religious and linguistic diversity’.


a.Policy developments

1.European Agenda for Culture

Since 2007 the European Agenda for Culture has been the strategic framework for EU action in the cultural sector. It is based on the promotion of three strategic objectives: (1) cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue; (2) culture as a catalyst for creativity; and (3) culture as a key component of international relations. The Agenda’s core methods are dialogue with cultural stakeholders and the open method of coordination. The 2015-2018 Work Plan for Culture further concretises the agenda and sets out four priorities: (1) accessible and inclusive culture; (2) cultural heritage; (3) cultural and creative sectors: the creative economy and innovation; and (4) promotion of cultural diversity. The priorities are put into practice in 20 concrete actions.

The Commission Communication ‘Towards an EU Strategy for International Cultural Relations’ presented by the Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy in mid-2016 is aimed at encouraging cultural cooperation between the EU and its partner countries and promoting a global order based on peace, the rule of law, freedom of expression, mutual understanding and respect for fundamental values.

Intercultural dialogue is an ongoing priority of the EU. With the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, this dimension has become even more significant. In the specific area of culture policy, initiatives such as those on Roma culture, intercultural cities, and dialogue with the Platform on Intercultural Europe are in the spotlight. Other EU policies promoting intercultural dialogue include, to name but a few, those relating to the audiovisual sector, multilingualism, youth, research, integration and external relations.

b.Action programmes and secondary legislation

1.Creative Europe – the EU’s culture programme for 2014-2020

The Creative Europe programme (2014-2020) has a budget of EUR 1.46 billion for the programming period (9% higher than the previous level). Under its umbrella it brings together earlier Union programmes: the MEDIA programmes (1991-2013), the MEDIA Mundus programme (2011-2013), and the Culture programmes (2000-2013). It also includes a cross-sectoral sub-programme consisting of (1) a financial guarantee, managed by the European Investment Fund, to make it easier for small operators to access bank loans, and (2) funding to support studies, analysis and better data collection with a view to improving the evidence base for policymaking.

Under its CULTURE sub-programme (for the MEDIA sub-programme, please see the factsheet on Audiovisual policy), there is funding available for (1) transnational cooperation projects between organisations active in the cultural and creative sectors; (2) European networks that aim to enable the workforce in the culture and creative sectors with specific skills and experience, international cooperation and new professional opportunities; (3) European platforms facilitating the mobility and visibility of creators and artists, Europe-wide programming of cultural and artistic activities and audience development and visibility; (4) literary translation of (packages of) works and their promotion.

2.European Capitals of Culture (ECoCs)

The European Capitals of Culture is one of the EU’s most successful and best-known cultural initiatives. Two cities — in two different EU countries — are given ECoC status each year. The cities are selected by an independent panel of experts on the basis of a cultural programme that must have a strong European dimension, involve local people of all ages and contribute to the long-term development of the city. Over the years, the ECoCs have also become a unique opportunity to regenerate cities, boost their creativity and improve their image. More than 40 cities have been designated as ECoCs so far. The procedure for choosing a city starts some six years in advance, although the order of the Member States entitled to host the event is established before then, and is organised in two stages.

The rules and conditions for holding the title, up to and including 2019, are set out in Decision 1622/2006/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council.

For the period between 2020 and 2033, rules are currently under revision. Decision 445/2014/EU extended the chance to participate in ECoC to candidate and potential candidate countries, provided that they participate in the Creative Europe Programme by the date of publication of the call for applications. In 2016, the Commission proposed to open up the action for EFTA/EEA countries. The decision on this proposal now lies with the Council and the European Parliament.

3.European Heritage Label

The European Heritage Label was initially brought into being as an intergovernmental initiative between several Member States in 2005. At the request of the Member States, the Commission proposed in 2010 to formally make the European Heritage Label an EU initiative. The label was established by Decision 1194/2011/EU. Its overarching objective is to strengthen intercultural dialogue and European citizens’ sense of belonging to the Union. In order to achieve these aims, sites are selected for their high symbolic value, the role they have played in the history and culture of Europe and the European Union, and their relation to democratic principles and human rights. So far 29 sites have been designated.

4.European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018

On 30 August 2016, the Commission put forward a proposal to Parliament and Council calling for 2018 to be designated the European Year of Cultural Heritage, in response to requests from both the Council and Parliament. The proposal is currently under negotiation. The Year would seek to highlight the role of Europe’s cultural heritage in fostering a shared sense of history and identity.

5.Unlawful removal of cultural objects

With Directive 2014/60/EU, a recast of Directive 93/7/EEC, the EU aims to protect national treasures and reconcile their protection with the principle of free movement of goods. It provides for the physical return of cultural objects that have been unlawfully removed from the territories of EU countries.

It sets out cooperation mechanisms and return proceedings against the possessor to secure the return of a cultural object unlawfully removed from the territory of one EU country to the territory of another EU country on or after 1 January 1993. It covers all cultural objects identified as ‘national treasures possessing artistic, historic or archaeological value’ under national legislation.


The EU’s cultural policy supports the awarding of prizes in the fields of cultural heritage, architecture, literature and music. The objective of these EU prizes is to highlight the excellent quality and success of European activities in these sectors. The prizes put the spotlight on artists, musicians, architects, writers and those working in the field of cultural heritage, and on their work. In doing so, they showcase Europe’s rich cultural diversity and the importance of intercultural dialogue and cross-border cultural activities in Europe and beyond.

Role of the European Parliament

In its role as co-legislator, the European Parliament is currently examining the Commission proposal to open the European Capitals of Culture initiative to EFTA and EEA countries. It is also negotiating with the Council on the Commission proposal to make 2018 a European Year of Cultural Heritage, with a decision expected in the first half of 2017. In the previous legislature it shaped, together with the Council, the European Heritage Label and the Directive on the return of cultural objects removed from the territory of a Member State.

Parliament took up the subject of cultural heritage in its resolution of 8 September 2015 ‘Towards an integrated approach to cultural heritage for Europe’[1] and stressed that while the main value of cultural heritage remains its cultural significance, it also has a role to play in growth and jobs.

In 2012 and 2013, Parliament negotiated with the Council on the main financial support for the cultural and creative sector, the Creative Europe programme. During the negotiations on the MFF and also during the annual budgetary procedures, Parliament consistently fights for increased budgetary allocations for the programme. An implementation report on the Creative Europe programme is has been voted in the CULT committee in January 2017 and is expected to be voted in plenary in the first half of 2017.

Parliament has expressed its longstanding interest in the potential and development of cultural and creative industries (CCIs) in various resolutions[2]. Not only are CCIs the expression of cultural diversity, but they also employ 7.5% of the EU work force, creating approximately EUR 509 billion in value added to GDP. In its resolution of 13 December 2016 on a coherent EU policy for cultural and creative industries Parliament called for a strategic approach to unleash the potential of CCIs[3]. It asked the Commission to adopt measures on a coherent EU policy for cultural and creative industries, developing a comprehensive, coherent and long-term industrial policy framework for the cultural and creative sector. Several measures should be adopted to improve the working conditions in the cultural and creative sector, to include CCIs in the Youth Employment Initiative and to provide funds to facilitate careers, entrepreneurship and training in this sector.

Parliament has also pushed for a strategic approach to the role of culture in external relations. In its Preparatory Action in the 2013 and 2014 budgets ‘Culture in EU External Relations’ it highlighted the considerable potential for culture in Europe’s external relations and underlined that the European Union and its Member States stand to gain a great deal by better streamlining their cultural diplomacy, and its resolution of 12 May 2011 on the cultural dimensions of the EU’s external actions[4] pointed in the same direction. In 2016 it drew up a resolution on intercultural dialogue[5]. A first exchange of views for a report in response to the Commission’s ‘Strategy for International Cultural Relations’ was held in a joint AFET and CULT meeting on 9 January 2017.

[1] P8_TA(2015)0293.

[2]OJ C 377 E, 7.12.2012, p. 142; Texts adopted, P7_TA(2013)0368.


[4]OJ C 377 E, 7.12.2012, p. 135.

[5] P8_TA(2016)0005.

Michaela Franke / Mara Mennella