Addressing the Culture and Education Committee yesterday, Spanish Culture Minister Mrs. Gonzales-Sinde gave priority to the consolidation of culture as a factor for economic growth and social cohesion. As a London MEP I was obviously interested in this as the creative industries are the second largest sector in London’s economy (after banking). Mrs. Gonzales-Sinde pointed out that the creative industries account for a significant percentage of the whole of the EU’s GDP, and that the recession had seen this percentage grow. The ‘ talent industries’, as she called them, had managed to absorb much of the impact of the financial crisis, and had therefore, become even more important to the economies of the member states. The importance of the creative industries is such that I pressed Mrs. Gonzales-Sinde to go in to further details about how exactly she was going to support them. She said that they are holding a European Forum on Culture and Economy in March and that there would be an ad hoc group set up to look in to the issue. This may not have been as specific an answer as I would like but it was very encouraging to see that the Spanish Presidency will be taking cultural issues seriously.
Mrs. Gonzales-Sinde continued by giving us two other broad aims for the Spanish Presidency, which runs for six months from January to June this year, in regards to culture. The other two were to take advantage of the potential of culture for local and regional development, promoting European Culture with a view to enhancing people’s sense of European Identity as well as promoting tourism and the development and dissemination of digital cultural content. The latter is one of the main issues being discussed in the culture committee at the moment. Mrs. Gonzales-Sinde rightly pointed out that the difficulty is finding the balance between giving Europe’s citizens ready access to cultural goods from all over Europe and the world, and ensuring that artists and the creative industries more broadly are suitably paid for their output.
Mrs Gonzales-Sinde proved to be very knowledgeable about Cultural issues and gave a speech that was interesting and ambitious in its aims. This was very welcome as the presentions to Committees by ministers from the country holding the Presidency are sometimes disappointing, focusing too much on the ministers own country rather than giving a broad European perspective.
She finished her speech with perhaps some of her most inspiring words:
“I cannot close my remarks without highlighting a task that arose with the very birth of the European Union… the fight against discrimination.
Women, minorities, and more than a few other collectives in our respective countries need us to redouble out efforts to ensure access to culture by the whole of out citizenry.
And when I say “access”, I am not only referring to the enjoyment of our cultural goods and services, but also to the enjoyment of the creation and undertaking.”
I was impressed by Angeles Gonzales-Sinde’s passion and understanding of the potential power for good contained within culture. I hope to be able to work with her to achieve the aims that she set out and with other issues in the Culture and Education Committee.
Just in case you are confused as to why there is a Spanish Presidency when Belgian Mr Van Rompuy was appointed President of the EU Council of Ministers, the position is that Van Rompuy now chairs meetings of the European Council and was elected to do this for two and half years with the possibility of extending this to five years. Individual member states still hold the Presidency on a rotating six monthly basis as before.