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Speech - Culture, economic development and the European Capitals of Culture

Commission Européenne - SPEECH/13/884   06/11/2013

Autres langues disponibles: FR

European Commission

Androulla VASSILIOU

Member of the European Commission responsible for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth

Culture, economic development and the European Capitals of Culture

Mediterranean Economic Week /Marseille

6 November 2013

Mesdames et Messieurs,

C'est un grand plaisir de m'adresser à la Semaine Economique de la Méditerranée.

Je tiens à remercier les organisateurs de cette session - Marseille-Provence 2013 et la Chambre de commerce Marseille-Provence, en particulier M. Pfister - de m'avoir invitée à présenter mes réflexions sur l'importance de la culture dans la stimulation du développement économique des villes et des régions.

Le fait que nos discussions aujourd'hui soient centrées sur les liens entre la culture et l'économie, en dit beaucoup sur la nouvelle perception de la culture et son rôle dans le développement socio-économique.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Not so long ago, it would have been taboo to mention culture and the economy in the same sentence. The pairing was seen as a negative one, received with scepticism by some, with protests of "commercialisation of culture" by others.

Let me say at the outset that culture can never be just a means to an economic end. Not that I see any danger in this: culture plays too significant a role in our lives and our society to be reduced to its mere economic function.

But that does not mean that we should ignore its contribution to growth and jobs, nor its significant economic potential for Europe.

Indeed, the economic performance of the cultural and creative sectors is now better recognised. In the European Union these sectors already account for up to 4.5% of GDP, and employ millions of people. It is becoming clearer and clearer to all stakeholders that investing in these sectors can speed up local and regional development and allows new economic activities and job opportunities to emerge.

In September last year I presented a strategy on promoting the cultural and creative sectors. In it, I urged the Member States - but also the regions of the European Union - to develop integrated long-term strategies, each at its level of competence, looking at the long term benefits of investing in culture. The Structural Funds can support this kind of smart investment, and this is an opportunity that should not be missed.

The European Capitals of Culture are also a great illustration of the economic and societal contribution of culture. They remain of course first and foremost a cultural event.

Through the title, the cultural activity in the city and its surrounding region increases, new audiences are reached and the cultural operators acquire a more international outlook, thereby improving their skills and professionalism.

But the European Capitals of Culture have also repeatedly shown what a city and its surrounding territory can achieve in terms of growth and jobs when embedding culture and the arts within a long-term development strategy.

There are examples of industrial regions that have left economic gloom behind thanks to the transformative power of culture. This is the example of Zollverein, a coalmine and coking plant in Germany's Ruhr, which closed its last production unit in 1993.

Thanks to the European Union's Structural Funds the coalmine was transformed into a centre for contemporary cultural activity, equipped with business incubators, providing training spaces and supporting a whole range of cultural and creative companies. Hundreds of jobs have been created on the site, and the whole Ruhr has now become a creative region, with more than 23 000 companies in the cultural and creative sectors. This impressive success was celebrated and culminated in 2010, when Essen was the European Capital of Culture. We want more stories like this.

Indeed, hosting a European Capital of Culture, or more generally investing in culture can bring significant economic benefits for the cities involved.

One of the most obvious is of course the increase in the number of tourists. The average increase of overnight stays upon the previous year for a European Capital of Culture is 12%. But this can go up to 20%, as for Liverpool in 2008 or even 27% as for Sibiu in 2007 and Pécs in 2010.

The European Capitals of Culture are also a process of change for a city, offering increased opportunities in terms of urban development. Some cities have used the title to regenerate former industrial areas and to transform them into new cultural or creative quarters such as the Zollverein that I just mentioned or the Zsolnay quarter in Pécs. In Pécs, the European Capital of Culture was also at the origin of the building of the new highway which now links the city to Budapest!

I also see that happening in Marseille, with the redevelopment in the harbour area, where we are today, providing both the city's inhabitants and its visitors with superb new facilities such as the Villa Méditerranée or MuCEM.

Besides these immediate results, there are other legacies, much harder to quantify and measure, but that can make their positive effects felt for many years after the event has taken place. They include for example the improvement of the city image in the eyes of its inhabitants and of the world.

This is especially true for cities whose image had been tarnished by years of industrial and economic decline. These cities had to reinvent themselves through the ECOC title, as was the case of Glasgow, and, more recently, of Lille.

Being a European Capital of Culture has turned these cities into more attractive places. This change manifested itself in a continued increase in tourism and the influx of business activities. In Lille, for instance, it is estimated that for each public euro invested in the European Capital of Culture the return was 8 Euros.

And there are social returns, too. The European Capitals of Culture can indeed foster cohesion and intercultural dialogue, for instance, through outreach programmes targeting young people, minorities, the disadvantaged or through volunteer programmes. As an example, Istanbul 2010 cooperated with 2500 schools, while there were around 10 000 registered volunteers in Liverpool 2008.

Artistic interventions can help increase the effectiveness of different social policies, with positive effects on social inclusion. Indeed, participating in cultural activities helps to create in people a sense of belonging and shared purpose, and can prevent social exclusion.

But – let me say it once more - in order to reap all the potential benefits of the European Capital of Culture title, and to ensure a lasting positive impact, the year's programme must be part of a long-term culture-led development strategy.

In other words, the cities involved must not just look at the short-term benefits to be gained during the year itself. They need to look further into the future, and devise a cultural strategy for the years to come.

This holds equally true for cities and territories on both shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Consider the rich and diverse cultural heritage, tangible and intangible, of the Mediterranean region, and you will see the enormous potential in terms of economic and social development.

As a platform between North and South, Marseille aspires to reinforce the dialogue and exchange with the rest of the Mediterranean region and help the circulation of good practices in this area. This alone would represent a significant legacy of its year as European capital of Culture.

I now look forward to listening to Jacques Pfister, the Chairman of the Marseille-Provence 2013 Foundation, and to learning more about the impact the European Capital of Culture has HAD for the city and the region.

I thank you all very much for you attention, and I wish you a fruitful Mediterranean Economic Week.


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