On 1 September, the AEC, together with 69 other networks from the Cultural and Creative Networks, launched a joint letter of concern strongly criticising the plans of the European Commission and the European Council to cut the Creative Europe budget for 2024. Among other things, the joint letter stated: “We are writing as a group of 70 networks and organisations from across the Culture and Creative Sectors and Industries (CCSIs) because we are deeply concerned by the proposed budget cuts of 40 million Euro to the Creative Europe work programme 2024.” This has been addressed and explained more in detail in AEC’s September newsletter.
In the same newsletter, we also reported that the newly installed Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Iliana Ivanova, had already in her inaugural speech expressed her concerns regarding these cuts. Although it was clear that the last word in budgetary matters lies with the European Parliament, we were not very optimistic that the decision could still be averted at the last mile of the decision-making process. Because experience shows that the interests of business, trade and industry count much more than the interests of culture in the European Parliament, especially when it comes to the distribution of money.
On Wednesday, 18 October, the EU Parliament met in Strasbourg to make a final decision on the 2024 EU budget. Indeed, the Parliament did not follow the proposal presented by the EU Council in July and finally adopted a budget in which the suggested cuts on the Creative Europe funding were no longer provided. The Parliament went even further and proposed to increase the Creative Europe budget by 25 million euros compared to the first draft of the budget as presented by the European Commission in June. Of course, the Parliament’s proposal still has to be negotiated with the EU Council, which will probably end in a compromise, i.e. it is unlikely that it will end up with 25 million Euro, however, the withdrawal of the original proposal can be seen as a remarkable and surprising success.
So, what happened? Was the parliamentary decision triggered by successful advocacy? Or was it rather other factors that led to this rethink? And what is successful advocacy, and how can it be measured?
Let’s first try to identify the different factors that were at play here. First of all, there was the new Commissioner and a common will to not put obstacles in her way without necessity, given the very short time left she has in office until the parliamentary term ends next June. But there were also strong arguments against imposing financial cuts on the CCIS, such as the precarious income situation of many artists and cultural workers and their particular burden due to inflation and increased energy prices. But it was also pointed out in the parliamentary debates that the Creative Europe programmes contribute to the promotion of media literacy and the fight against disinformation and populism. One might be inclined to interpret the latter argument as an instrumentalisation of art and culture for other purposes, but it is probably too short-sighted to see it only in a negative light. Even among political decision-makers, a growing awareness can be observed that culture is needed more than ever, especially in times of crisis. Last but not least, it also became clear that the planned cuts would indeed have been only a drop in the ocean compared to the amount of the overall budget, which would have harmed the cultural sector without leading to significant savings elsewhere at the same time.
But back to the question of whether the European political decision-makers surprising change of mind can be seen as the result of successful advocacy carried out by AEC and its European partner organisations, or whether this was triggered by other reasons. One thing is certain: alone against all of them, we would certainly not have succeeded. But without the targeted advocacy actions launched by those affected and their stakeholders, it probably wouldn’t have worked either.
In other words: Advocacy can pick up and amplify trends and political opinions that are already present. Advocacy can generate public awareness of an issue and thus create or reinforce public pressure. All of this played a role in this specific case. Last but not least, many Members of the European Parliament are starting to investigate and test topics and actions that they consider to be well-received by their potential voters in the run-up to the upcoming European Parliament elections only half a year ahead.
If you want to learn more about what successful advocacy is and how to develop, prepare and implement successful advocacy actions, as well as many other things you always wanted to know about advocacy but never dared to ask, you are welcome to attend the Advocacy Pre-Conference Workshop, which will take place in The Hague on Thursday, 9 November from 9:30 to 12:30h in the frame of the AEC Congress. The workshop will feature contributions from the members of the ARTEMIS Advocacy Task Force as well as Benjamin Feyen (Secretary General of the Cultural Creators Friendship Group: a cross-partisan coalition in the European Parliament).
The workshop is free of charge and accessible for those who already registered as participants of the 2023 Annual AEC Congress.