Reactivate the Space – Stoplight on the European Regions

Article written by Gabrielle Bernoville, in English.

“Europe cannot be satisfied only with the circle of large prosperous cities, which exchange goods and wealth, there are abandoned areas, held away from every advance”

Laurent Gaudé We, Europe, Banquet of the People, Editions Actes Sud, 1 May 2019
Athens, first European Capital of Culture in 1985 – Photo by Oleksii Khodakivskiy on Unsplash

Is culture a sustainable driver of development? Can our creative industries and cultural practitioners act as potential vehicles for communication and social inclusion?(1) How can we support and promote culture in non-urban areas, making sure that cultural offer is inclusive and accessible to all Europeans?

Today, the Society Europe for Regions would like to challenge the question of the European citizenship outside and shine the spotlight on the regions, away from the capitals and the hustle and bustle of the cities, on the large variety of regional and local spaces.

What Culture can do for the European Regions?

As Gilles Gressiani, the founder and chairman of the Grand Continent, a policy incubator dedicated to the European and global affairs, argued: “Two observations face each other that the European Union is essentially revealed in cities and urban centres and that its political project is unfinished”.

The European Democratic Deficit and the Institutional Gap is often regarded as stronger in the “removed” or abandoned territories, in the small secondary cities, particularly in the areas affected by the economic and financial crisis of the early third millenary. In this context, Cultural cooperation and intercultural dialogue contribute to create trust and bridges and establish common among either among the European societies and within themselves. As the French Historian Christophe Charle (2) emphasized it, the territorial and political logics at the roots of the European Nations, relied on the power of a centralized and attractive capital.

The metropolis/capital is the natural factory from at least the 19th century onwards of any literary production of any renown both socially and symbolically material in terms of life. It is the fundamental matrix of the writer’s trajectories because it concentrates the instances of production, reproduction and legitimization of literate discourse.

All in all, end Europe is probably more visible in the countryside for cultural projects than in the city sometimes. The inhabitants are more involved in the projects carried out.

The Report of the Structured Dialogue between the European Commission and the cultural sector., Voices of culture also noted: To bring communities successfully together and fruitfully promote intercultural dialogue in public space it is important to create synergic encounter between the impulse of communities who are on the ground (…) (bottom-up movement) a public administration (top-down movement), Arts and culture should be at the centre of local government where:

  • Municipalities (urban and rural) have a culture of being open for arts and culture and keen communicate and promote them
  • That there is an increase in the average of European scale of working to empower local work through concrete European exchanges at the local level to offer an alternative view – exchange of good practice between professionals

On the side of the European Commission, several initiatives and already operating funds can be pointed out.

The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) is the fund supported the rural development of European regions. Funding instrument of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) it is also ensuring a sustainable and balanced territorial development of rural economies a community through the creation and maintenance of employment. If less known by the cultural practitioners than the Europe Creative or Erasmus funds, this fund is much more visible by the locals, and target directly the removed areas around community development. All in all, end Europe is probably more visible in the countryside for cultural projects than in the city sometimes. The inhabitants are more involved in the projects carried out.

In the case of the Regional policy, its two first two priority objectives of European regional policy are continued with the help of ERDF, ESF, EAGGF assistance. However, projects financed under these two objectives, especially by the ERDF, the ESF and even more recently the EAGGF often has a cultural dimension: restoration and enhancement of the architectural and cultural heritage construction cultural facilities and participation in the financing of facilities and services cultural, establishment of cultural and tourist services training activities artistic or related to the management of cultural activities. On the other hand, the funds do not finance the costs directly related to the services artistic. The cohesion policy 2007/2013 has enabled regions to invest more in culture through the registration of an amount of 6 billion euros.

Besides the institution actors, horizontal networks also embody this aim to use Cultura for territorial development. The Mayor-led cross country network Eurocities led recently a one –year long campaign across Europe “Cities4Europe”. The idea of Eurocities was to create digital and tangible space of trust- building and idea-sharing, in partnership with other stakeholders such as the European Cultural Foundation, Bozar, Comedos, EFA (European Festival Association), UNRIC, Euro town (European network of medium-sized cities), the European Youth Capital (European label), URBACT and Young Europeans.

What all European cities have in common is their membership of the community and a cultural activity that often deserves to be amplified and celebrated on a broader scale. The long-term effects are another side of the coin.

Another Example of bottom-up and horizontal key driver is the European Network for the cohesion and solidarity in rural areas, funded by the Europe for Citizens program emphasised the added value of cultural and creative organisations, industries, To foster European citizenship and to improve conditions for civic and democratic participation at Union level Raise awareness of remembrance, common history and values and the Union’s aim that is to promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples by stimulating debate, reflection and development of networks. It is worth looking at the number of completed projects in the previous programming period, 128 for a total amount of over EUR 2,125,000. The projects mainly concern tourism, culture, recreation and promotion of the areas.

Thanks to such initiative the potentials of the sub-state territories have been gradually taken into account by the commission.

At the converse of the above projects, the European Capitals of Culture’s goal is to involve the whole range of dimensions. Melina Mercouri’s initiative as Minister of Culture in the Greek government of the 1980s – with the support of Jack Lang, her French colleague, she convinced the other members of the Council to award the title “European City of Culture” to a different one each year.

What is firstly hammered regarding European Cities of Culture is their similar European identity: what all European cities have in common is their membership of the community and a cultural activity that often deserves to be amplified and celebrated on a broader scale. The long-term effects are another side of the coin. The long-term effects not only in terms of sustainable infrastructure, but in terms of the social divide in cultural life, so having lasting effects is not only having built a new concert hall. However, the are embodying specific and personal forms as Françoise Benhamou (3) illustrated, it, Lille and Glasgow’s successful models, diverge a lot from the example of Luxembourg or Liverpool.

Except to some of them, they were only a few European Capitals owning this title, which leave the stage to the secondary cities. The title of European capital of Culture fit all kinds of cities, from Valletta to big cities like Marseille (France). Each city has its place and its story to write in this project Luxembourg (unbalanced promotion of the greater region) and Liverpool = funny adventure. Liverpool stands at the opposite of the spectrum. The city was the mid of an economic transition and mainly pushed by the desire to boost its tourism activity. Hence, the management of the title of European Capital of Culture is regarded as clumsy and lacking coherence. The deficit contracted approached of 20 millions of euro for this operation; whereas the European dimension was perfectly absent. The city had simply proclaimed itself “cultural capital” and focusing its artistic events on links with the rest of the world. Marseille, could also be an interesting example of our analysis. Indeed, policy-makers decided, in 2013, to extend the title to the whole region, promoting Marseille-Provence instead, as the European Capital of Culture. The division of activities and the series of events showcased the historical and cultural variety of the region. Marseille became a hub for the intercultural dialogue, oriented to the East, while Aix en Provence focused more an elitist and classical manifestations (4).

For more information:

  • European Commission, European Capital Of Culture: the road to success, from 1985 to 2010, 2010.
  • European Commission, Strengthening European Identity through Education and Culture, The European Commission’s contribution to the Leaders’ meeting in Gothenburg, 17 November 2017.

  1. https://en.unesco.org/themes/culture-sustainable-development
  2. Charle Christophe (dir.), Le Temps des capitalse culturelles. XVIII-XX sièles, Seysell, Champ Vallon Conclusion by D. Roche, 2009.
  3. Benhamou, Françoise, Cultural Policy end of the game or new season ? 2015 Editions de la documentation Française
  4. Denuit, Renaud, “European Capitals of Culture, a perfectible success”, European Cultural Policy, Bruylant Edition, Belgium, 2017, pages 257 to 272

Published by LA REGIONISTO

La Regionisto focuses on regional economic, political or cultural issues. Its aim is to enable everyone to deepen their curiosity for various regions of Europe and beyond, in a classic or fun way. We welcome articles written in any language and from any approach!

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