A meeting of the Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council was held in Brussels on 10 and 11 May. I represented the UK at the culture and audiovisual sections of the Council, together with Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish Minister for Culture and External Affairs. Shona Robison, the Scottish Minister for the Commonwealth Games and Sport, represented the UK for the sport section of the Council.
The Council adopted, without discussion, conclusions on the digitisation and online accessibility of cultural material and digital preservation. These conclusions follow on from the conclusions on Europeana adopted by the Council in 2010 and respond to a Commission recommendation on the digitisation and online accessibility of cultural material and digital preservation which was adopted in 2011. They identify key issues for further progress in this field and invite the member states, the Commission and Europeana to take further measures to ensure that progress in digitisation can be maintained. The UK supported the adoption of these conclusions.
The Council adopted a partial general approach on the proposal for a regulation establishing the Europe for Citizens programme for 2014-2020. This programme will follow on from an existing EU programme, but with a new legal base of article 352 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union. Under section 8 of the European Union Act 2011, an Act of Parliament is required before the UK can consent to EU legislation based on article 352. The UK therefore supported the adoption of the partial general approach but I informed the Council that an Act of Parliament will be required. I also emphasised that in the current economic and financial climate we expect that the budget for the programme will be reduced from the level proposed by the Commission.
The Council also adopted a decision designating Donostia-San Sebastián (Spain) and Wroclaw (Poland) as the European Capitals of Culture for 2016.
Culture and Audiovisual
The Council adopted a partial general approach on the proposal for a regulation establishing the Creative Europe programme for 2014-2020. This programme will follow on from the current Culture, Media and Media Mundus programmes. The partial general approach did not include the programme budget and the proposed new loan guarantee facility. The UK did not support the partial general approach, as it does not provide for selection decisions—that is, decisions about which projects will be awarded EU funding under the programme—to be subject to member state scrutiny through the formal comitology arrangements.
However, I was able to welcome other aspects of the proposal, in particular recognition of the increasing importance of the digital agenda and technological innovation in culture and media, and the increased scope for new synergies and cross-sectoral initiatives.
Ministers from other member states expressed broad support for the partial general approach. Most were also broadly supportive of the loan guarantee facility as a means of improving access to finance for small and medium-sized enterprises in the cultural and creative sectors. However, some raised questions and concerns about whether it should supplement or replace grant spending in the programme and about whether and how it would benefit smaller member states and organisations and how it would be implemented in practice. For the UK, I welcomed the opportunity to consider the issues relating to the loan guarantee facility in the light of developments in the negotiations on the multi-annual financial framework.
The Council adopted conclusions on combating doping in recreational sport. These conclusions refer to the European Union Work Plan for Sport for 2011-14 which highlight the fight against doping as a priority theme and established an expert group on anti-doping. They set out why doping in recreational sport is an important problem and support the extension of the mandate of the expert group to collate best practices and produce recommendations in this area by the end of 2013. The UK supported the adoption of these conclusions and they were adopted without debate.
The Council also held a policy debate on future challenges in the fight against doping including in recreational sport. The UK recognised the important role which the EU and its member states have to play in the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) review of the world anti-doping code, noting that article 10 of the code (regarding the sanctioning of athletes) needs to be amended and that the UK is pushing for tougher future sanctions as part of the review process. The UK also set out its views on the issue of combating doping in recreational sport and noted that the education of athletes, particular younger athletes, is a key issue. The UK observed that the educational work carried out by UK anti-doping at the recent school games was a good example of this.
Any Other Business
The German Minister introduced a paper on the draft Commission communication on state aid for films and other audiovisual work. This paper was co-authored with the UK, France and Austria. The German Minister commented that new criteria proposed in the Commission’s draft communication would impose important restrictions on the film industry in Europe and there was a risk that large productions would begin to move away from Europe. In order to maintain Europe’s competitiveness, the wording of the communication needed to be revised. I supported Germany’s comments and noted that the film tax credit has been a huge success and that current territorialisation criteria (i.e. the obligation on producers to spend a specific part of their production budget in the territory offering aid) are working well. On aid intensity (i.e. the amount of aid available as a percentage of the production budget) I expressed our concern that the proposed new limits would impact negatively on the whole of Europe. In response, the Commission noted that the public consultation on the draft communication, which concludes on 14 June, provided an opportunity for member states and other interested parties to raise their concerns. The Commission did not intend to weaken the competitiveness of the European film industry.
The Commission briefly introduced the communication on a European strategy for a “Better Internet for Children” which was published on 3 May and stressed the need for an EU-wide strategy to provide the same protection opportunities for all children and to avoid fragmentation.
The Commission also introduced their first report on the application of Directive 2010/13/EU (the Audiovisual Media Services Directive) which was published on 7 May. The Commission stressed the importance of moving towards a digital single market and explained that they have set up a media futures forum which is intended to produce recommendations before the summer.