European Parliament Fact Sheets

4.17.0.     Cultural policy


Articles 3, 30, 87(3) d and 151 EC Treaty

  1. The Treaty of Rome did not contain a specific chapter or paragraph concerning cultural policy. Only in the preamble to the Treaty was there a reference to culture as a factor capable of uniting people and promoting social and economic development.
  2. The Maastricht Treaty gave cultural policy its own legal basis. Article 151 provides a basis for action aimed at encouraging, supporting and supplementing the activities of the member states, while respecting national and regional diversity and at the same time bringing the common cultural heritage to the fore. The principles for intervention by the EU in the field of culture are complementarity and subsidiarity. Any act of harmonisation of legal and regulatory provisions of the member states is excluded from the scope of Article 151. Measures are taken by codecision procedure with unanimity in Council.
  3. Article 22 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights stipulates that "the...EU shall respect cultural, religious and linguistic diversity".
  4. The Convention's draft Constitutional Treaty , which serves as basis for the Intergovernmental Conference (Autumn 2003) recommends that the field of culture will be subject to qualified majority voting.


The EU shall contribute to the flowering of the cultures of the member states, while respecting their national and regional diversity and shall bring common cultural heritage to the fore.


  1. Action programmes
    Although the EU had no legal basis for culture prior to the adoption of the Maastricht Treaty, it nevertheless provided funding for cultural activities via the European Social Fund (*4.8.2) and the European Regional Fund (*4.4.2) and through ad hoc initiatives. Actions focused on the protection of cultural heritage, grants for artists, assistance for literary translation and support for cultural events.
    1. Cultural Programmes
      With the introduction of a legal basis for culture in the Maastricht Treaty, the EU started to organise its cultural activities more effectively.
      • The Kaleidoscope Programme was set up in 1996 and aimed to encourage artistic creation and to promote awareness and dissemination of the culture of the peoples of Europe .
      • The Ariane Programme was adopted in 1997 in order to increase co-operation between Member States in the field of books and reading, and to promote a wider knowledge of literary works and history of the European peoples by means of translation and improvement of skills of professionals in this field.
      • The Raphael Programme was adopted in 1997 with the aim of encouraging co-operation between the Member States in the area of cultural heritage with a European dimension.
    2. Culture 2000 Programme
      Kaleidoscope, Ariane and Raphael marked the first stage in the implementation of EU action on culture. The three programmes have helped to reinforce and extend transnational partnerships, have improved public access to culture and have promoted European cultural activities. In May 1998 the Commission proposed the establishment of a First EU Framework Programme in support of Culture for the period of five years (2000-2004) with a total budget of ˆ167 million. The aim was to simplify action by using a single instrument for financing and programming cultural co-operation. The programme was formally adopted on 14 February 2000 . Its aims are to promote dialogue and mutual knowledge of European culture, to promote good practices concerning Europe 's cultural heritage, creativity and transnational dissemination of culture and the mobility of artists, new forms of cultural expression, and to foster the intercultural dialogue between European and non-European cultures. The 'Culture 2000' Programme ended in 2004. In April 2003 the Commission presented a proposal (COM (2003) 0187) to extend the 'Culture 2000' Programme unchanged for the years 2005 and 2006.
  2. Other Activities
    1. Languages
      Linguistic diversity is an important part of EU cultural identity and is recognised in Article 22 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. The knowledge of other European languages not only opens doors to work opportunities but also furthers understanding between the citizens of the EU. Therefore the EU promotes the dissemination and preservation of European languages through several activities. The EU recommends that all pupils leaving compulsory education should be able to speak at least two European languages in addition to their mother tongue.
      The European Year of Languages 2001 was a great success and, in July 2003, the European Commission adopted an action plan for 2004-2006 with a view to promoting language learning and linguistic diversity
    2. European Capital of Culture
      The European Capital of Culture was launched in Athens in 1985 and was a genuine success. The event began as an intergovernmental initiative, but at the request of the EP, the Commission in 1997 submitted a proposal for a Decision, based on Article 151, adopted on 25 May 1999 , which will end the designation of the cities by intergovernmental agreement and bring it into the EU framework from 2005 onwards.
    3. Cultural Goods
      According to Article 30 of the Treaty, prohibitions or restrictions on the import, export or transit of national treasures possessing artistic, historic or archaeological value are permissible so long as they do not constitute a means of discrimination on trade between member states. In view of the implications of the abolition of frontier controls in connection with the consolidation of the internal market, rules were needed for the protection of cultural goods. Therefore the EU adopted a Regulation (3911/92) according to which the export of cultural goods is subject to the presentation of an EU export licence. A Council Directive (93/7) was adopted in 1993 to secure the return of national treasures of artistic, historic or archaeological value that have been unlawfully removed from a member state's territory. By a Resolution of 21 January 2002 on the implementation of the above-mentioned Regulation and Directive, the Council invited the member states and the Commission to improve the effectiveness of their activities in these fields.
    4. Rights of the artist and artistic work
      The EU has approximately 7 million people professionally active in the cultural sector. The EU supports the activities of artists through programmes such as Culture 2000 and MEDIA, and the Treaty guarantees freedom of movement for all, including professional artists. However, as the EP has pointed out in several resolutions (for example, 9 March 1999 ), this right is often hampered by national administrative barriers. The EU has also established rights for the protection of the work of artists through its copyright Directives and legislation concerning resale rights, and rental and lending rights. Cultural goods and services are subject to. There is a standard minimum VAT rate of 15% and a reduced rate of less than 5%. As a way of supporting artistic and intellectual creativity, the EU allows member states to apply reduced rates of VAT to certain goods and services such as the supply of books and periodicals, access to cultural events and reception of radio and TV broadcasts.
    5. Copyright
      The protection of intellectual property rights or copyright has economic, social and cultural aspects. The creation of the EU single market and rapid technological advances made it necessary to create legal protection for copyright. Accordingly, since 1991 the EU has adopted several directives on the exercise of rights to protect authorship and performance (*3.4.4).
    6. Cultural industries
      The cultural industries, cinema, audiovisual media, publishing, craft industry and music, contribute to job creation and economic welfare, promote cultural diversity and enhance European identity. Therefore the EU takes the cultural aspects of these industries into account when implementing its actions (Article 87 3(d) EC Treaty). Due to the special nature of the cultural industries, the EU during the WTO negotiations on trade has always taken the position that certain cultural and audiovisual sub-sectors should not be liberalised (the so-called cultural exception ). In a Resolution of 4 September 2003 on cultural industries, the EP supported unanimity in Council in the field of trade regarding cultural and audiovisual services. The Convention's draft Constitutional Treaty also recommends unanimity voting as regards these services.
    7. Town-Twinning
      The idea behind the Town-Twinning was born in Europe after World War II and is regarded as making an important contribution to the development of European citizenship. On the initiative of the EP, in 1989 the EU established a support scheme for twinning events which includes educational programmes on topical European issues. The annual budget of approximately €12 million supports about 1 300 projects.


  • The EP believes that Europe 's position in the world is not merely determined by its political, economic, social and geographical standing but to a large extent by the position and strength of its cultural values. To emphasise the importance of the cultural aspect of EU policy, the EP decided to establish a Committee responsible for cultural matters after its first direct elections in 1979.
  • The EP had for many years been of the opinion that the Treaty should include a legal basis for cultural policy. With the adoption of the Maastricht Treaty, it not only saw this wish fulfilled, but it also obtained co-decision competence with the Council. This means that it gained influence on legislation adopted according to Article 151, which however requires unanimity voting in Council, which can be difficult to obtain. Therefore the EP pleaded for a change to qualified majority voting. This change has been incorporated in the Convention's draft Constitutional Treaty.
  • The EP also asked the Commission to draw up a multi-annual programme on linguistic diversity including regional and minority languages and to carry out a feasability study on the creation of a European Agency for Linguistic Diversity and Language Learning (Resolution of 4 September 2003 ). It wants to give the member states the option of applying reduced VAT rates to a wider range of services and goods such as recorded music and films, provided that this does not affect the functioning of the internal market. It called for the continuation of the lower VAT rate experiment for some sectors (Resolution of 4 December 2003 ). As seen above, it was instrumental in including the European Capital of Culture scheme within the EU framework and in town twinning.