A meeting of the Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council was held in Brussels on 16 and 17 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. Shan Morgan, the UK’s Deputy Permanent Representative, represented the UK for the sport section of the Council.
Culture and audiovisual
The Council adopted a general approach on the proposal for a decision establishing the action for the European capitals of culture 2020-33. This action will follow on from the existing European capitals of culture action which ends in 2019. It envisages that the UK will host a European capital of culture in 2023. The UK supported the adoption of the general approach.
The Council also adopted a decision designating Aarhus (Denmark) and Paphos (Cyprus) as the European capitals of culture for 2017 and Valletta (Malta) as one of the two European capitals of culture for 2018.
The Council held an exchange of views on the transatlantic trade and investment partnership. The Commission highlighted the need to secure an ambitious negotiating mandate, while acknowledging that it is essential to protect European culture, particularly in relation to the audiovisual industry. The Commission was clear that it believes the current text of the mandate is consistent with this approach in seeking to protect the audiovisual industry by maintaining existing EU measures, protecting existing national regulations and financial support, and reserving future policy space for new technologies. France argued strongly for audiovisual services to be excluded entirely from the trade agreement. This position was supported by Belgium, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. For the UK, I welcomed the Commission’s commitment to securing these vital cultural protections, but argued that this trade agreement presents a historic growth opportunity for the European economy and it would be wrong to risk damaging our overall level of ambition by excluding a particular sector completely before negotiations have started. This position was supported by Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden.
The Council debated the role of culture in the EU’s external relations. Speaking for the UK, the Scottish Minister noted that the UK was recognised as a world leader in soft power and gave some examples of how Scotland is fostering strong bilateral relations, particularly with China. The Minister emphasised that any EU initiatives must bring added value and not dilute the work which is already going on in member states. Other member states were positive about establishing a third-country co-operation framework for the EU.
The Council adopted conclusions on dual careers for athletes. These conclusions are based on the “EU guidelines on dual careers for athletes” produced by the EU expert group on education and training in sport, which is chaired by the UK.
They recognise that young people should be supported as they seek to continue their education while aspiring to be high performance athletes. This will offer them further opportunities to contribute to society following the end of their athletics careers. The UK supported the adoption of these conclusions.
The presidency reported on the meetings of the World Anti-Doping Agency which were held in Montreal last week. These meetings had focused on the amendments to the code review and the budget.
The Council also held a policy debate on the role of public authorities in combating increased sophistication of doping in sport. The debate opened with a presentation from Travis Tygart, chief executive of the United States’ Anti-Doping Agency, who identified four key areas in which public authorities need to take action: legislation, independence, funding and engagement. Member states described some of the solutions they have adopted to tackle doping, including awareness-raising, co-operation and improved methods to uncover doping. The UK noted that the national Anti-Doping Agency had adopted an intelligence-based approach to tackling doping, which had been used as the basis for conducting tests on athletes before the Olympic games, and emphasised the importance of education, such as through the “Win Clean” campaign, developed during the Olympics, to inform athletes of their rights and responsibilities.
Any Other Business
Germany introduced an item on the revised draft Commission communication on state aid for films and other audiovisual work, arguing that it place limitations on member states in relation to territoriality. Belgium, France and Portugal supported this concern and France also questioned the threshold for the amount of aid. For the UK, I welcomed confirmation that our film tax relief remains in line with the communication, but I expressed our concerns about the publication of information about aid beneficiaries which could influence the price for which films are sold. I called for a speedy conclusion to the revision of the communication. In response, the Commission emphasised that it had incorporated into the communication almost all the demands from member states.
Germany also introduced an item on the proposed exemption clause for state aid for culture. Germany argued that there should be a complete exemption without the requirement of a maximum amount of aid, and that there should be timely notification procedures which did not interrupt the aid from public sources. France expressed concern about the extent of the exemption and where the boundary lay. I intervened to support the Commission, noting that the proposed changes would provide more flexibility for member states and remove the need for burdensome processes. In response, the Commission accepted that the scope for non-notification needed to be made clear.
The presidency updated member states on the negotiations on the creative Europe and Europe for citizens programmes, and Portugal introduced a paper on “Better connections for a better Europe” which set out two proposals designed to improved communications between EU Culture Ministers and between European cities.
Finally, Lithuania outlined the priorities for its forthcoming presidency of the Council. In the culture and audiovisual fields, these would focus on the role of culture in addressing social challenges, negotiations on a revised directive on the return of cultural goods unlawfully removed from a member state, decisions on international co-operation agreements with Colombia and Peru, and a recommendation on European film in the digital age. For sport, the priorities were conclusions on financial aspects in sport, a recommendation on health-enhancing physical activity and a ministerial debate on good governance principles in sport.