Brexit and UK-EU27: How will culture fare?

The short answer is that nobody knows.  UK Prime Minister May is refusing to offer a running commentary on the British approach to negotiating the exit and EU27 is refusing to open negotiations in advance of the formal notification under the now infamous Article 50.

The nearest to anything like a policy view during the referendum campaign was Boris Johnson’s comment that the “UK is leaving the European Union but not leaving Europe”.  Oh that it would be that simple. The arts sector overwhelmingly voted to Remain. A view>  Simpler still to stay in but that’s another story.

This is the first in a series of postings where I look at the possible future UK-EU27 relationships in the culture arenas (and there is certainly more than one arena!).  To start with in this post I simply list the areas, and programmes, which need to be addressed in the Brexit negotiations. I don’t claim this is exhaustive so please drop me a comment and I’ll update the post.

Later posts will start to look at the implications.

I’m assuming the dark Brexit day will be sometime in 2019, before the elections to the European Parliament and before the next EU finance period from 2020. I’m also ignoring both any “transitional” arrangement and a straight switch to the EEA/Norway model as PM May wants a “bespoke” deal.  Many formal statements emphasise that the UK remains a member and so can still play its full part: see the Arts Council of England.  But then they would wouldn’t they!.

Let’s be clear about one thing. The Article 50 process means EU27 have the upper hand, by a long way. They will decide the terms of the exit.  Will culture be seen as a small area, with no EU competency, so can the UK/EU27 carry on as before?  Or will it be seen as the UK trying to cherry pick the “nice” parts of the EU?   Time will tell.

The specific areas fall into money, people and processes.

Money: funding sources from the EU which could dry up with a very hard Brexit.

People:  restrictions on the free movement of people both to the UK and from the UK to EU27

Processes:  how “access” to the single market could work, taxes, laws, standards, influence,

A fourth area covers external influences:  the UK economy, exchange rates and importantly the effects on the culture sectors in EU27 after Brexit.

Taken together they illustrate the complexity of Brexit (imagine the same issues multiplied across most of the UK economy).

In terms of impact we need to look from three different directions:

from the cultural and creative sectors: the producers

from the audiences and future audiences

from the effect on the 30 year momentum of the increasing influence, ambition and internationalism of the British cultural world

The worst case will be a serious and possibly slow shift to an inward looking insular society where because of money (lack of), difficulty, or even purpose the arts offer in the UK diminishes in ambition.  There is a risk the Brexit cultural debate will focus on the producers, the list below does.  The more important issue will be the effect on “the audiences” and the longer term momentum.

Creative Europe (or its successor).  Will the UK seek to remain and pay an annual fee ( as Norway or as Turkey until they withdrew earlier this year over a genocide reference and took their €2m+ annual fee with them).  The UK arts sector does well from Creative Europe.   Continued participation in Creative Europe after 2020 should also smooth the path to co-host a European Capital of Culture in 2023 as membership of Creative Europe is a pre-condition).  See Labour’s view >  and mine on ECOC2023>

Media programme, (part of Creative Europe) gives funds for cinemas in UK showing films from other EU countries (and these cinemas are by far the main locations for any foreign language films in the UK).  Supports pre-production costs (I, Daniel Blake received almost €100,000, The Kings Speech over €500,000), supports British films shown in the EU, has training programmes.  Funding also helps co-productions. A view>

Other Funding Opportunities> Erasmus+, Europe for Citizens, COSME, INTERREG, ERDF (helped fund Peaky Blinders) and more.  The British Council  is successful in winning  or managing EU projects, for example SHARE in South East Asia, European Voluntary Service, projects in China, Kosovo, Lebanon, Egypt. Will the British Council stay in the European Union Network of Cultural Institutes (EUNIC)? Will it take part in the new programmes of culture in the European Union’s external relations?  Is there any effect on the UK’s and the EU’s soft power?  A view>

Freedom of Movement.   The “Big One”.  Will UK arts organisations still be able to recruit staff from EU27?  Will the creative and cultural industry sector still be able to recruit?  Will existing EU27 staff and self employed keep their full rights after Brexit?  Will any new recruits after Brexit need visas? Will the UK government impose sectoral quotas or salary thresholds?   Will British citizens now in EU27 still be able work in EU27? Or only tied to their current country and/or current job?  And in future will British citizens still be able to go to EU27 to work: (Bowie’s Berlin days a thing of the past?).  Architects, animation studios, museums, heritage: you name it, the UK workforce is diverse (one of its strengths).  Not forgetting those academics in cultural subjects in universities. What will EU27ers in the UK feel as they show their pre-Brexit or post Brexit ID cards?  Will the rise in xenophobia die down?

Carnets and permissions?   Will British based touring companies need a country by country carnet as they do for China?  Touring orchestras, rock bands, early music groups, Adele, Rolling Stones, djs, theatre companies , exhibitions etc all affected.  Will touring artists from EU27 also need carnets to bring their equipment etc. into the UK; effect on festivals? A view>

Qualifications: will UK qualifications still be accepted?   A version of the qualifications issue is that EU committees, panels, “Open Methods of Coordination” (which discuss a wide range of policies)  will no longer have British members.  Will I be the last member and chair of the Selection Panel for European Capitals of Culture as membership is limited to nationals of EU member states?

Exports.  Over 40% of the creative industries exports go to EU27.  Free trade continues?  Or tariffs (and WTO does not have any useful categories to use and Free Trade Agreements normally have little to say on services).  Will British architects still be able to compete for commissions (Foster’s Reichstag?).  Will the UK still benefit from the Digital Single Market?  Will British TV and films still be classed as European in those countries with European quotas?   And of course the mirror image of exports are imports.  The cultural sector has supply chains as well as Nissan!  Import duties on items from EU27?

Intellectual Property Rights.  A minefield.  A loss of engagement with developments in the fast moving field?.  A view>

More law: Artists Resale Rights, Export Licencing Regime, restitution claims, the art market   A view> and another>

And then there are the broader issues, the consequences of a Brexit.

The £ and exchange rates.   A lower £ sterling affects many areas of the cultural sector. A view>

Weaker public finances.  Will these put a further strain on public sector budgets at national and local levels?

I don’t expect this list is exhaustive. Please add!


Labour won’t win in 2020 by re-running 2015

Labour lost the general election in 2015.  A leadership election is underway.  Candidates are writing their manifestos. Is it too early?  Will the candidates be too tempted to re-run 2015 rather than look ahead to 2020.  The political landscape will change. Here are a few thoughts.

Five more years of a Tory government, unhindered by any Liberal Democrat brake, and in hock to the more right-wing members of the Tory party, will mean a harsher landscape.  Not just fox-hunting but abortion restrictions (and I suspect a few Tories will be looking longingly at Orban’s attempt to restore capital punishment in Hungary).  More banks, more in poverty, greater “security” surveillance.  We will be spending billions on the four Tridents. We will have an even more authoritarian society, officially sanctioned.

The Tory leader in 2020 is likely to be from George Osborne, Boris Johnson, Theresa May.  Will they skip a generation after Cameron goes, probably in 2018?  Doubt it. Well-known senior figures appealing to the Tory heartlands.

Public finances will still be in a mess. Osborne’s forecasts on both debt and deficit have been proved wrong; there is no reason to expect any change. There will still be “no money”.  More years of stringent cuts.  It’s difficult to see how significantly more full wage jobs can be created so the tax take won’t increase to mitigate cuts.

The public sector ethos will be further weakened. Not just through out-sourcing, privatisation and ” public sector social entrepreneurialism”.  Top managers in the public sector will be required to operate as private sector equivalents. The internal culture of the delivery arms of the public sector will drastically change. TTIP and ISDS will prevent the re-nationalisation of public sector contracts.

The Scottish Parliament, from 2016, will be firmly in the nationalist camp. It is hard to foresee Jim Murphy (let alone the old school of Scottish Labour) turning the electoral prospects around in a short time.  As Spain has seen with Cataluña a nationalist mind-set always wants more.

Osborne’s “northern powerhouses”, led by Manchester, will be in full swing. Devolution in England will be underway mostly led by Labour councils and they will want, and deserve, more. Power may be devolved but in reality in many cases it simply means power to implement more cuts to local government. Bye bye not just libraries but many areas of local services. No way that the Tories will restore any form of sensible London government.

And looming over all of these changes will be the defining political topic of the next five years: the in/out EU referendum.  Polls may indicate a “stay in” majority but as we have seen polls are not at their most brilliant.  The lesson from the Scottish Independence referendum is that even a seemingly clear 55/45 division does not end the debate.   A “stay in” vote may not end the question; UKIP and the right-wing Tories will continue for a second chance in the 2020s. Will we see Theresa May leading a UKIP/Tory grouping in 2020 pledging to reverse the “stay in” vote?  Or an Osborne  (perhaps even the bend in the wind Johnson) leading a “happy to be in” a reformed EU?

A “leave” vote in 2017 leads to two years of negotiation of the terms of the exit (the Treaty sets a time limit).  Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will be up in arms if they have been outvoted by the English.  Constitutional turmoil.  How does that stack up in 2020?

In my view Labour leadership candidates will find it easy to outline their social and local policy positions; obviously with different priorities. This is their comfort zone.  But the overwhelmingly strategic political decision they have to take is on how active in the next two years they will be for a pro-EU vote.  No more fence-sitting.

Yes, this means tackling the concerns over migration in areas not used to it and not pandering in UKIP-lite style. It means jettisoning the “Controls on immigration” mug. It means leadership from the front not from the backroom focus group. We all want to reform the EU. If it was being invented now we would not build the current version. But it is the one we have. The 2020 election depends on the EU referendum. Time to step up and be counted: the UK’s future lies unequivocally as a member of the EU. That’s what a potential prime minister in 2020 needs to project.


Who will be the UK’s European Capital of Culture in 2023?

Updated June 2016 with news on bidding cities and the selection in Croatia for ECOC2020.

Updated August 2015 to highlight the report from the panel on the pre-selection (shortlisting) for the ECOC in 2020 in Croatia.


A UK city will be the European Capital of Culture in 2023. It will share the title, and work with, a city in Hungary. 2023 may seem a long way off but cities thinking of bidding should be starting their preparations now. The bids will need to be completed in mid-2017 for shortlisting. The final selection, based on revised bids, will be in 2018.

So far Leeds and Milton Keynes appear to have set up bidding teams; will more join the competition?  Dundee will decide to bid in September.  Cardiff may put a bid together.   These are leaving it very, very, late to put a bid together.  Many recent ECOCs have spent 3-5 years before the submission of the bid.  Why the long time?  Because it is no longer a top down application which can be prepared by a city administration and a few cultural operators.  The criteria require extensive consultation and  participation in the development of the bid.  Not just marketing or convincing people but actively seeking views and acting on them.  This poses a challenge to city administrations and as importantly to the cultural sector in a city.  In essence a bid says “we are not satisfied with our cultural offer and we seek to transform our city through culture (and other sectors).  Putting a programme together also involves considerable visits to other ECOCs and in finding partners for projects across Europe (and beyond). 

An ECOC is not a big celebration of the present but a transformational programme for the future.

They, and other cities considering bids may find the report on the pre-selection of the ECOC in 2020 in Croatia useful.  It is the first report based on the new criteria for ECOCs from 2020.   Four cities, out of 8, were shortlisted.

The Panel selected Rijeka at the final selection. The report is here.   The panel will select the Irish city as the co-ECOC in 2020 in July. there are three candidates (Galway, Limerick and the Three Sisters (Waterford, Wexford and Kilkenny)

There is a new guide for cities considering or preparing to bid . This is essential reading!!

As the current chair of the Selection Panel of the European Capitals of Culture (ECOC) I see bids from candidate cities in many countries and all start their bid preparations well in advance. Many spend five or six years preparing their bid, well in advance of the official announcement.

A key point to notice is, of course, this is the EUROPEAN Capital of Culture.. not the UK City of Culture title successfully held by Derry-Londonderry in 2013 and awarded to Hull for 2017. That competition was part of the legacy of Liverpool becoming the last UK city to be awarded the ECOC title, in 2008.

The criteria at European level are different to the UK version; they are also different from the ones used to select Liverpool (let alone Glasgow’s ground breaking programme in 1990).  The selection process also differs to the UK City of Culture.

The Culture Ministers of the 28 EU member states have recently agreed the new programme and the European Parliament have also completed their formalities. The formal “Decision” will be published shortly. There is a preview later in this post.

So what does a candidate city have to focus on?  Well each city will be different; it will have its own objectives and purpose. There is no single magic template which guarantees a successful bid or programme. The title is not awarded simply because a city is in the UK (and still in the EU of course).  A city’s size is not relevant.  Nor is its cultural heritage a major factor.

An ECOC is based on a future programme and not a celebration of the past. Successful cities integrate the standard selection criteria with their own local objectives. The “legacy” is important: what are the longer term outcomes?  In recent years the budgets for the ECOC programme have varied from €20m in the smaller and newer EU member states to between €50 and €80m in western European countries. The money is spread over the five or six years of the overall programme.  This is on top of the usual cultural budget of a city and excludes any infrastructure or new buildings. Several recent ECOCs have successfully bid for EU regional funds for culturally related projects (mostly linked to cultural tourism).  Most ECOCs build up to a management team of 40-50, plus hundreds of volunteers.

There are six criteria. These are set out in detail, together with the background to the programme, in the new formal “Decision” which covers the competition from 2020 to 2033. Cities thinking of bidding should read the document closely (that old adage from school “remember to read the question first!”). The final version is here:

Final Decision 2020-2033

The first criteria is that a city must have an existing cultural strategy even before it can bid. The ECOC is not a one year “super-festival” but needs to be part of the overall cultural development of a city which in turn is part of a city’s strategy. This is one of the reasons potential bidding cities may need to start soon, developing their city’s cultural strategy takes time.

Four criteria will be familiar to cultural managers:  outreach (including the involvement of citizens in the development of the bid), management, the capacity to deliver and a high artistic and creative content. “Culture” in the context of an ECOC has a wide interpretation: all artforms from djs to opera, new media, community and participatory arts, arts in schools, hospitals,  languages, creative industries etc.   The focus is on the programme which normally progressively builds up to the events of the year.  The programme needs to be additional to the existing cultural offer in the city (as is the programme budget).

A common and crucial feature is that it is a highly international programme. Some ECOCs have an international aspect to virtually every project or event or base their programme around European themes.

The remaining criteria is the one which marks the ECOC out from national cities of culture: the “European Dimension“.  The programme must highlight the cultural diversity of Europe (to the cities own citizens and not using the title solely as a tourist/city branding exercise), highlight European themes and the common aspects of European cultures, heritage and history. This is a challenging criteria and one which is of major importance.  Recent ECOCs have developed a wide range of imaginative projects to meet this European Dimension requirement.

What should cities thinking of bidding do now?  My advice is to go and visit the two current  ECOCs, (and those already selected for 2015 to 2018) to learn. There is a wealth of good practice, and lessons to learn and share.  Riga and Umea hold this year’s title and are in full swing.  In 2015 the title goes to Mons and Plzen; in 2016 to Donostia San Sebastian and Wroclaw; in 2017 to Aarhus and Pafos. In 2018 Valletta and Leeuwarden share the title.  Several of these ECOCs have their bid-books (in English) online. All are working hard to develop their programmes.

Later this year the Selection Panel will recommend the cities in Italy and Bulgaria for the 2019 title.  There were 21 candidates in Italy and 8 in Bulgaria.  There are now 6 on the shortlist in Italy and 4 in Bulgaria.  Read the Panel’s reports on the pre-selection shortlisting.

There are clear short-term and long-term benefits for a city holding the ECOC title. These are outlined in the recent report commissioned by the European Parliament from Beatriz Garcia of Liverpool University.  Recent holders of the title (eg Marseilles-Provence,) are in no doubt about the success of their programmes. Many cities which were not successful in the competition find they have made significant gains: the bidding process in itself was more than worthwhile.

Who will bid for the title when it comes to the UK? I’ve no idea but now (June 2016) is the time to be deeply into preparing the bid.  Good luck to all the candidates!




Local democracy in Walthamstow or will the gambling giants win again?

William Hill Organisation, one of the largest betting and gambling companies in the UK  (excluding the banks of course) want to open a new betting shop in the area.  The local residents signed a petition to oppose. The local council’s planning committee agreed with them and turned down the application.  Predictably William Hill have appealed.

A few months ago Newham Council did the same; they lost on appeal.    The new style betting shops are proliferating across the UK, along with payday lenders.  Gambling Watch UK warns of a generation of younger gambling addicts.  Another report questions their link with problem gamblers.

Will the same happen in Walthamstow?   Here are the points I’ve made arguing against William Hill and supporting the Council.

  1. All of the major political parties are making policy statements to increase the degree of local decision taking in respect to their neighbourhoods.  Whether called decentralisation, community engagement, participatory democracy or the Big Society, the direction of travel is obvious: a greater degree of local direction.  It is quite clear that residents in the area, as well as their elected representatives, do
    not want to lose a retail space nor gain another betting shop in the area.
  2.  Betting shops are no longer the betting shops of old: the shop for the flutter on horse and greyhound racing.  Their main income and rationale is now gambling, more suited to casinos and the controls which apply to casinos.  Fixed Odds Betting Terminals  will be installed by the William Hill Organisation should their appeal be successful. They are aptly described as the “crack cocaine” of gambling. These have no place in our neighbourhood which already has an over-supply of gambling/betting outlets.
  3. There are already seven William Hill shops within a little over a mile of this location, including one already in the same road, according to a search on the Organisation’s own website. They cannot argue that they need another to “serve the area”.  There are, of course, even more betting shops in the
    same area managed by their competitors: the residents of the area
    already have enough outlets.  Of course the penetration of betting shops
    in a relatively poorer area of London is a sign, along with the payday lenders and pawn brokers,of the ability of the financial services industry to prey on the weakest.
  4. The location is along the route taken by many young people attending the Waltham Forest College who catch public transport at the Hoe Street/Forest Road crossroads. Putting a betting shop in their path conveys the wrong signal to them.
  5.  Walthamstow, like so many urban centres, is struggling to maintain vibrant and productive high streets and areas. The loss of a retail unit in the cluster of shops around  Hoe Street/Forest Road is an unwelcome step.   The proximity of the William Morris Gallery, now recognised as Museum of the Year 2013, the renovation of Lloyd Park and of the Bell public house into a family-centred pub, are steps in the positive direction for the regeneration of this area.  A betting/gambling shop is not.

Will Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Local Government support local residents, or will he side with big business?

Send your objections, quoting APP/U5930/A/2199214 to saying you oppose the appeal by the William Hill Organisation (address of proposed new betting shop is 520/522 Forest Road, Walthamstow).  By midnight 5 August!!!!

The deadline has now passed but still send your objections in (they may be accepted or at least the Planning Inspectorate might record them as too late!)

I am sure that this will not the last time a gambling company will seek to open a new outlet in Waltham Forest so keep your eyes open and be ready to organise!




Power to the people: from closure threat to Museum of the Year.

A campaign which started local and went global, has finally paid off.  Six years ago Waltham Forest Council planned to close the William Morris Gallery, in Walthamstow.

Now the gallery has won the Museum of the Year 2013, an award worth £100,000, and organised by the ArtFund.  Congratulations are flooding in. They are well deserved.  The renovations have transformed a fusty, dark and quite frankly unappealing building into an informative, bright and attractive survey of Morris and his myriad interests.  The obligatory cafe is a nice touch as well. Many photos on google.

Amongst the plaudits there is, however, a little re-writing of history.  One of the judges, the artist Bob and Roberta Smith is quoted in the ArtFund magazine:

” in the current climate it’s amazing to see a local authority realise the power of art in regenerating a borough”.

Other reports have made a similar point. Fair enough; Waltham Forest Council did provide £1,500,000 towards the work (around 30%) and will run the Gallery.  Good news for all who believe in the important role the arts can play in local well-being.

But it was not always this rosy. Six years ago the Council wished to close the Gallery, merge its priceless contents with a museum in South London and be shot of the whole affair. They wanted to save £65,000.  Unbelievably they had tried to do the same in 1987.

What changed their mind?  A very active campaign which gained world-wide support.  A petition signed by 11,630, demonstrations (it was cold!): citizens actions. An active Friends group was formed in 1987 lobbied.  The Council changed its mind.

Now the new Gallery has attracted over 100,000 visitors in less than a year from its re-opening. The Museum of the Year prize will bring in far more.   So it is congratulations to the local councillors.. for listening to their local citizens.

As well as the standing collection the Gallery has already hosted exhibitions by Grayson Perry, David Bailey, modern crafts and in 2014 becomes the first gallery in the UK to host Jeremy Dellers’ current exhibition at the British Pavilion in Venice. That features William Morris rising to hurl Abramovich’s monster yacht into the lagoon.

With the arts in financial trouble in most of Europe it is a little bit of good news on the power of campaigning.   William Morris, socialist, would have been pleased.



Culture, Citizens and the European Parliament

In a years’ time citizens in the European Union will be at fever pitch as they prepare to vote in the elections for the European Parliament. Well perhaps not at fever pitch! Turnout at these elections has been declining in most member states. In only 9 countries in 2009, the last election, did half the voters cast a ballot.  Apathy and indifference were stronger contenders.

2014 may well turn out to be markedly different.  The European Parliament now has real powers. Under the Lisbon treaty, it is no longer a wasted vote or a missed democratic opportunity. Members of the European Parliament have already shown they can alter proposals from the European Commission and from the inter-governmental Council. The 2014-2019 European Parliament will feature far more in our news than its predecessors.

But who will be in the Parliament?  At the moment it is dominated by four main political groupings: the Christian Democrat EPP, the Socialists and Democrats, ALDE. (liberals) and the Greens. All pro-EU and used to working in “the spirit of the EU”.  Of course they all have a few mavericks but generally they work comfortably together.  With well over 70% of the members they control the Parliament.

The rest form odd groupings: from the left to the right.  Noisy, splintered, fragmented and mostly ineffectual,

But will this be the same after next years’ elections?  The current political climate across the EU suggests otherwise.  A feature of recent elections and polls in member states has been the rise of parties not affiliated with the big 4 at European level.  Golden Dawn and Syrizia in Greece; UKIP in the UK, Grillo’s M25 in Italy.  A new party will contest the German elections in September (pro-EU, anti Euro). Opinion polls in Spain show a breakdown in support for the two main parties with the left and centre gaining. Concurrently there is increasing support for the 15-M movement.  Logic dictates that voters in Portugal, Ireland and Cyprus may not look too kindly on pro-EU candidates next year as the EU takes the blame for the austerity measures (and you can’t vote for the IMF). The far right-wing parties also seem to be gaining in popularity with their anti-EU, xenophobic, reactionary rhetoric. The True Finns, Swedish Democrats, Le Pen’s Front National.. the list, goes on. In the UK, sadly, it seems to be a given that UKIP will be the largest party in the May 2014 elections. If nothing else the noise from the far-right drags the centre of debate even further to the right.

Already alarm bells are ringing in Brussels.  A European Parliament with a substantial minority being anti-EU or at least anti current policies?  Indeed it is not too difficult to forecast a blocking minority (although the chances of all the “minority” parties agreeing on anything is remote).

The political parties are preparing.  Gossip abounds about who from the in-crowd will get the top jobs.  But outside of party politics there are several attempts to influence and mobilize opinion before the elections.

In June we see the “first-ever Citizens Summit” organised by the “EU Civil Society Contact Group“. The Group brings together eight large rights and value
based NGO sectors – culture, environment, education, development, human rights,
public health, social and women. The Summit aims:

to bring together for the first time professionals, practitioners and activists
from across the different sectors, culture, development, education,
environment, health, human rights, social affairs and women’s rights to
discuss the future of Europe. Our intention is to foster an open dialogue
amongst a diverse group from across Europe in order to start a genuine
participatory process on the future of the European Union, and what this means
for people living within its borders. We believe that by creating a shared
understanding and dialogue, we can help move forward common objectives for a
common future. 

The Cultural Coalition for a Citizen’s Europe holds its latest conference in Lyon in May.  After its meetings in Brussels and Amsterdam this coalition turns its attention to

At its borders, in a Mediterranean political and social transformation, Europe is experiencing a strong migratory pressure from its neighbours and more distant countries. Inside, the moral, social and economic crisis leads us to retreat, promoting the growth of xenophobia, nationalism or simply mistrust vis-à-vis foreigners (whether EU or non-EU ). How are we to consider the prospect of the European population’s decline in this major contemporary tension if we do not accept more than 55 million foreign workers in four decades? How should the cultural and civic dimension be taken into account in international relations, especially with countries of the Mediterranean basin?

Even the European Commission gets in on the act with the “New Narrative for Europe“. Launched by Commission president Barroso the project runs to three “états généraux” of participants, mainly representatives from the world of culture and intellectuals, in Warsaw, Paris and an as yet undetermined city in Germany. It will result in

the publication of a manifesto by the participants in the “états généraux” meetings and other interested parties, incorporating elements relating to the values, culture and history that represent the connecting link between Europeans, in order to develop a vision for Europe which can be adapted to the current challenges such as solidarity, strengthening the democratic legitimacy of the EU and the role of Europe in the age of globalisation and interdependence.

These initiatives are to be welcomed.  But are they enough and will they tackle the hard issues of today?  It is noticeable that none of the meetings in the three projects will take place in a country under a EU/ECB/IMF bail-out regime. Not perhaps a good message to send!

Trust in the six largest European Union member states as a basic concept is declining.  When economic times are tough solidarity with fellow Europeans declines.  Yet virtually all the solutions on offer, including those based on culture, seek greater Europeanness, More Europe.

Aart de Geus, head of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, a German think-tank, warns that the drive to surrender more key national powers to Brussels would backfire. “Public support for the EU has been falling since 2007. So it is risky to go for federalism as it can cause a backlash and unleash greater populism.”

Jurgen Habermas and  Zygmunt Bauman have weighed into the debate about the limits of solidarity, the rise of populism and the risks to the European project. The Trade Unions are calling for a Social Europe as a way of going beyond the economic focus.

Barroso himself warns  ” We cannot let populism, scepticism or pessimism undermine the foundations of Europe, not to speak about new forms of nationalism that I believe are a very serious risk for the European values that we cherish.”

The key test for the Cultural Coalition, the Citizen’s Summit and the New Narrative is to move beyond the cultural cosmopolitan, the “educated urbanists” in marketing jargon. I’m assuming that the participants will not use the projects to press for their own sectors’ financial case.  Lobbying has its place: this is not that place.

There have been many fine sounding declarations of the importance of culture in Europe, how culture is at the heart of being European and how culture can support the European Union. (This last assertion is the hardest to sustain).  I hope the initiatives do not come up with more of the same, however well-intentioned.  The economic austerity in many countries in the EU, the threats to free movement of people (but not it seems capital), the failure of many austerity programmes, rising un-employment (and under-employment) change the context.  Those previous declarations have appealed to the committed Europeans in times of plenty. Now is the time to send a positive message to those less than committed to a European Union.

It is probably too late for the projects to change their programmes but they surely must hold meetings away from the Brussels/France/Germany nexus.  It will soon be EU-28 but you wouldn’t notice it.

Robin Wilson puts one of the key challenges this way:

For a young generation for whom the war is sepia-tinted history and neoliberalism offers only insecurity—including in some countries a more than even chance of being unemployed—’Europe’ therefore now holds no meaning except Erasmus programmes for the educated elite.

This chimes with a major report on Youth Participation in Democratic Life,  which should be required reading in all three projects.  The research looked at youth (13-30 year olds to match the EU’s Youth in Action programme) in six countries (Austria, Finland, France, Poland, Spain and UK).  The report calls for major changes to remove poltiical and cultural barriers to increased youth participation.

Given the overwhelming levels of perceived betrayal, distrust, scepticism and/or anger expressed with regard to politicians by 95% of our focus group respondents from “reference”, “active” and “excluded” in all six countries and the survey results that point to a political offer that is often perceived as inadequate, this seems to us to be an immediate and significant challenge and action point.

A challenge indeed.  Let’s see how they respond.


If you don’t let us dream, we won’t let you sleep



At the time of writing it is unclear how the Cyprus “bail-in” crisis will be resolved. Regardless of the ending it is clear that a modern Rubicon has been crossed.  It has been a tenet of faith since the financial crisis exploded in 2007 that the money people have in banks, up to  EUR100,000, is safe.  Taxes may be raised, public sector jobs and salaries cut, public services reduced or sold off but banks can still be trusted to look after people’s’ money in their bank accounts.  “Savers” are now “lenders to banks”.

The initial terms of the Eurozone “solution” of Cyprus’ banking problem has blown that tenet apart.  It seems that finance ministers, EC officials and the IMF have decided that bank accounts are no longer safe. Some are hastily backtracking once they see the public anger but too late: they did say “cross the Rubicon, it’s only a little stream in little Cyprus”.  The details, still being debated whilst I write, are irrelevant.

The European Union prides itself on being a union of values. The claim is a fixture in many documents from all of the Brussels institutions: Parliament, Commission, Council (and the Bank in Frankfurt).

The initial terms of the Cyprus “deal”  break a fundamental value: that of trust.

I think that the Cyprus “deal” is a watershed. Across the EU more and more people are becoming angrier, more cynical, and more distrustful of those in power.  Dissent is moving from the fringe nearer the centre, the mainstream, perhaps not now but slowly and progressively.

One of the posters at a demonstration in Nicosia read “If you don’t let us dream, we won’t let you sleep“: the title of a recent play at the Royal Court Theatre in London.  It marked a return to overt political theatre.  The play may not have hit the heights of theatrical drama but the message and intent was clear.  The cultural sector often claims for itself that it challenges the status quo, that it triggers a deeper look at our society and current beliefs.  In reality the overwhelming output of the creative and cultural sector does nothing of the sort.  But in times of crisis, when basic values are under threat, it is promising that some parts of the creative world can present a strong reflection.  It is surely a time when culture, the arts, needs to challenge the economic basis of society, a return to collective values rather than the intensity of challenging individual identity.

There are calls for a new European Union. They vary from one based on a cultural concept, or led by and for citizens or a social Europe. They have in common a demand for a fundamental change in direction, a rejection of the pure market led society and ideology now prevalent.

Ken Loach’s film “Spirit of 45” records the transformation of British society after the Second World War; a social transformation slowly dismantled from Thatcher onwards and being rapidly dismantled by the current UK government in the name of austerity.    It is not just in the UK.

The film highlights the poverty of the 1930s. There is a telling shot of a poster “Starving men fed daily”; the film ends with a queue at a food kitchen in Walthamstow in 2013.  Recently the leading Labour Party politician charged with drafting the new party policy said that he believed food kitchens will remain with us, (and not just in the UK).  Leadership? Progress? A warning?

2013 in the EU has been marked by a succession of comments, speeches and plans based around the false idea that the European Union welfare state concept, the social market, can no longer “compete” in the world increasingly dominated by Asian societies paying little attention to welfare of their citizens.

If there was a time for a cultural European Union, a citizens’ European Union, it is now. Both need to reject the current direction of politicians; it is not a time to tinkering at the edges or for confusing lobbying for more money for the arts with a need to change the ideological direction.

Photo from here


Unity through Conferences

It’s November and the conference season in full swing across Europe. Austerity and cuts may be the dominant reality but Europe’s cultural cosmopolitans have their boarding passes at the ready.

The ever-welcome newsletter of the Platform for Intercultural Europe (PIE) sets the scene.  Conferences in Belfast, Brussels, Turin, Vilnius, Helsinki, Brussels (again), Cosenza, and Kobuleti; and that’s just November.  Amidst this cornucopia of lanyards, name tags and lost luggage two themes emerge, the ever-changing make-up of European societies and how “culture” can, or should, solve Europe’s problems.

I’m sure that participants in all these events will come away energised with new ideas, some which may be put into practice.  My own more limited hope is that conference organisers put as much as possible onto their websites after the event. It is so frustrating to read the programme, perhaps read some advance papers, and, then, nothing more. (advance #Hashtags also useful!).

The Platform’s newsletter goes some way to open up one series of meetings.  The European Commission’s use of expert groups has come under criticism recently from the European Parliament. The PIE reports on a meeting in Brussels of the “Open Method of Co-ordination” .. an expert group on  “Cultural Diversity and Intercultural Dialogue”. It’s a comprehensive report: just as well as I can’t find any formal minutes or names of members. “Open” clearly does not mean “public” which is a shame in today’s more transparent requirements of governance.

I was taken by Chris Torch’s expert paper prepared for the meeting in which he gives an overview of migration and poses some ways forward for the arts sector to address social cohesion and diversity issues.  A sound paper but one I felt stopped short of proposing the radical changes needed.  It seems the OMC meeting itself also took the easy way out with its interim view that arts organisations should perhaps carry on as usual and merely add some additional “community” arts to their programmes.  The EU prides itself on its “Unity in Diversity” but nowhere more so than the ways member states deal with their own citizens and residents in their countries.  This point was raised at the meeting by representatives of member state governments. The Torch paper underplays the wide nature of “migrants” weakening many assumptions and recommendations he made.  There are, post 1945, four main waves of migration, loosely described as “guest worker”, post colonial, economic and intra-EU free movement. Western Europe has seen the four waves, in different mixes, from the 1950s. The newer member states in Central Europe had a long period of increasing mono-culture and a more recent and shorter experience of both emigration and fluidity.  Countries with a history of being emigrants themselves now find themselves receiving migrants. In many countries migrants, as in newcomers, are outnumbered by second and third generation citizens, no longer migrants nor should they be considered as such. Racism not migration is the issue.

Each country has a different mix based on their own history. I found both the Torch paper and the report on the meeting too timid in their views. The hard topics are avoided: religious  and cultural differences, the rise of overt racism (in Greece for example with Golden Dawn, in Hungary etc). In short: the policies and practices of the last decade do not seem to be working. More of the same is not enough.  What was missing from the Torch paper and it seems from the OMC is the realisation that change is needed within the arts and creative industry sectors, as employers of managers and artists. Adding activities on the margins of the mainstream is not enough.

Brussels naturally, hosts two conferences which look at two sides of the second mega-theme.  Culture Action Europe, a lobby group for the arts sector, opens with a programme  Let’s ask ourselves: what we can do for the European project, in what ways can we be useful? And then: engage to do it!   I do admire the conference’s aim ” A starting point for a large-scale movement of European citizens, regardless of the sector in which they are engaged, to reclaim the destiny of the European project.”

These arts sector orientated debates are followed two weeks later at the Brussels Conversations on a Cultural Coalition for a Citizens Europe, discussing “the future of the European project and the citizen’s role in making it a reality”.  A brave aim when many are questioning the very concept of the European project. Was the Nobel Peace Prize the final accolade for the project now it has achieved its original aim of ensuring enduring peace between France and Germany?  I do like the conference proposition that  “The lectures and workshops in this encounter will move beyond the theoretical-legal-philosophical discussion and show that citizenship and its cultural component is something we should practice in our daily lives”.

A busy time indeed. And myself?  Well not to be left out I’m speaking at a conference in Paris on 23 November.  My theme?  “Europe: cultural solutions to a wicked problem?”


“We are suffering in a sea of blood”: Samar Yazbek

Syrian writer Samar Yazbek has been awarded the Pen Pinter award for Writer of Courage on the nomination of Carol Ann Duffy.   Yazbek, now in exile in Paris, writes about her experiences in Syria in “A Woman in the Crossfire” and was in discussion with Peter Clark at the Frontline Club in July.

“What is this madness?” she writes. “Death is a mobile creature that now walks on two legs. I hear its voice, I can stare right at it. I am the one who knows what it tastes like, who knows the taste of a knife against your throat, the taste of boots on your neck … I am no longer afraid of death. We breathe it in. I wait for it, calm with my cigarette and coffee.”

Last year I wrote this on my previous blog:

Writers capture the essence of place and time.   The tragic events in Syria are underreported by the media.  Daily the government is killing protestors seeking nothing more than freedom.  As with the other North African and Arab countries Syria is showing what happens when trust breaks down within a country between the leaders and the people of a country. Egypt and Tunisia have started the long slow path to normality. Syria has not. Yet.

But what it is like to be in Syria now?  We hear little from those in the country.   Samar Yazbek is a novelist, screen writer and was banned from leaving Syria last month.  In a recent interview  she said:

“In recent weeks people have finally broken the silence and fear, I myself have participated in the demonstrations”, she says. “We have found the courage to ask for freedom and democracy, an end to emergency laws that oppress us since 1963. We demand real political parties and elections, the right to express ourselves. But the repression is very hard, with many deaths and arrests. As always, the regime makes promises, but does not maintain them.The army and security forces control everything.”  More than that of the streets, she says, is the fear of speaking”      ” ……..  “The solution must come from within. From our youth who are the most important force, from women activists. In all there is much awareness and commitment, refusal to divide ethnic groups or religions.”

As a writer she puts her thoughts into words.   Here is the opening of a recent work published on Babelmed ,  ” Awaiting Death”

It is not true that death will have your eyes when it comes.

It is not true that the desire for death is like the desire for love. These two are not identical, yet they both float in nothingness.

In love, one identifies oneself with another person, whereas in death one identifies with one’s existence and the metamorphosis from tangible substance to an abstract idea. People have always seen death as being more noble than their own existence: if not, why venerate the dead? The deceased, who was here among us only a few minutes ago, is at once turned into nothing but a spark.

I would not say that I am calm now, but I am silent. I can hear my heart thumping like the echo of a distant explosion: more clearly than the sound of bullets, screaming kids, and wailing mothers, and even more clearly than the trembling voice of my mother when she tells me not to go out into the street.

The assassins are everywhere.
Death is everywhere.

In the village,

In the city,

By the seaside.

Assassins are taking over both humans and places, and they are terrorizing people. They come to the homes of our neighbours, telling them that we are about to kill them. Then, they turn back at us crying: They will kill you!

I am the accidental visitor to this place. I am the improvisation of life. I do not belong to my own community.

Continue reading at


The real legacy of the Paralympics rests outside sport.

The Paralympians have gone home to celebratory welcomes and parades. In London, in Moscow, in Cairo.  For two weeks their exploits in the London 2012 Paralympics have captured the imagination of millions of people. In the UK we were lucky to have blanket coverage from Channel 4. In many countries, most noticeably the USA, broadcasters let their athletes down.

And now to the legacy.   Undoubtedly the Paralympians will “inspire a generation”. More disabled people will take up some sport or active exercise.  Many parents of disabled children have taken heart having seen what is possible. The search for more elite athletes will continue in preparation for the Paralympics in Rio2016.

The legacy needs to be broader and not just linked to sport. It needs many people to make it happen. Are you a manager?  An HR professional? An events organiser? Are you an architect or designer? A politician?

Take a long look this week at your own interactions with disabled people.  Are your products and services suited for disabled people?  Are you capable of – and open to -employing disabled staff?   Not just the ramp at the entrance.  One of the most poignant interviews  during the Paralympics was with five-time Gold medalist in dressage Sophie Christensen, born with cerebral palsy. She now has a job…..

But getting that job was really difficult. With my first-class masters degree, I wanted to get a high-flying job in the City. And I went to loads of interviews and ended up thinking, this isn’t going to work. Firstly, I wouldn’t be able to live in London because of access, and secondly, the big companies weren’t willing to give me a bit of extra help.

Does that ring a bell? What are you going to do about this week?   Just how open for business and employment is your organisation? Are you willing to give that bit of extra help?

An events manager? How suitable are your events for disabled participants?  The event can range from an internal staff meeting to an arts festival for thousands.

If you are an arts manager are you aware of artists who are disabled and do you give them space? Why not?  Dance companies like Candoco performed at the Closing Ceremony; is the arts sector living up to its oft heard claims to be in the lead in society?

Architects and designers have a special responsibility. They make the future in many ways.   Will the thousands of new houses and flats in the new Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park be suitable for the disabled?  This means exceeding the current minimum building regulations. It would be a travesty if the developers cut corners. And not just on that site. Are you a local Councillor on a Planning Committee. Are you approving new residential units with limited access and facilities?

The Paralympian athletes inspired us all.   We all look at disability in a different light. It is now for us to inspire a generation by changing our habits and practices.  The Paralympics have come of age . Seventy-five countries won medals at the Paralympics; athletes from over one hundred and sixty countries took part.  They inspired everyone who watched.  Now is the time to change.  There is a wealth of advice available; use it.