Members' Research Service By / July 10, 2017

Access to culture in the European Union

Written by Magdalena Pasikowska-Schnass, Culture, by its very nature, is a difficult concept to define precisely; and it is just…

© / Fotolia

Written by Magdalena Pasikowska-Schnass,

Elevare la conoscenza e la cultura
© / Fotolia

Culture, by its very nature, is a difficult concept to define precisely; and it is just as difficult to impose the statistical rigour needed to back cultural policy ambitions and funding. The same terminological and statistical difficulties apply to the issue of access to culture and participation in culture. Culture has many facets and can be approached from the perspective of self-expression or creation, enjoyment of various forms of expression as a consumer, or skills enabling the above.

Access to culture is understood as the opportunity to benefit from cultural offer, whereas cultural participation implies the consumption of various cultural goods and services by the public at large. Any discussion of access to culture needs to cover areas such as financial means and public spending, social integration, skills and education, geographical and social isolation, minority rights, cultural rights and freedom of expression. All of these have an impact on access to and consumption of culture, and are potential barriers to broad public participation in a rich cultural life.

These barriers can be addressed at all levels of governance: local, regional, national and European (subsidiarity principle permitting), since each level refers to different cultural needs and has a different scope of action. Local and regional authorities take decisions at the level closest to the population and are better placed to take local conditions and infrastructure needs into consideration to support particular sectors or projects. They can include citizens in decision making, and can establish cross-border cooperation. The national level is generally responsible for addressing needs when it comes to large-scale infrastructural or cultural projects and giving a general direction to cultural policy. The European Union has limited competencies in this policy area. Its prerogatives relate mostly to support for Member States’ cultural policies, focusing mainly on developing cultural cooperation, safeguarding diversity and heritage, and promoting cross-border initiatives.

Beginning with a review of the definitions of the concepts given by some international, cultural and statistical bodies, this paper discusses access to and participation in culture. It then identifies barriers, outlines the work being done at European Union level to overcome them and proposes ways to improve access to culture.

The data and studies analysed cover a wide range of actions and tools. The EU institutions have considered factors that hinder access to culture in policy areas besides culture itself, including education, digital and other new technologies, copyright, human rights, regional development, and rural or peripheral areas.

The European Parliament has approved a number of resolutions and recommendations concerning equal access to cultural services and goods regardless of disability, language or ethnicity, the role of cultural heritage and cultural services in rural and remote areas, and the potential of new technologies to promote access to culture for those who have limited opportunities to benefit from the culture on offer.

The European Commission has issued communications and regulations setting out recommendations and laying down rules that aim to improve access to culture for all. It now faces a new challenge, that of supporting a digital shift that offers digital access to culture as well as digital culture. Digital environments create both opportunities and threats to cultural production and consumption since the right balance between consumers, artists, creators and those involved in cultural activities in digital environments has yet to be struck.

Read the complete in-depth analysis on ‘Access to culture in the European Union‘ in PDF.

Associations with culture
Table 1 – Associations with ‘culture’: EU average and highest results by country

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