Speech of May 4th 2020
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for inviting me to your Committee meeting. This is the first time since my confirmation as Commissioner that I have the opportunity to address the CULT Committee. And I am delighted to be able to have this exchange with you, which is taking place under special conditions which we are all familiar with.
This pandemic knows no borders or nationality. Its rapid spread can only be stopped if we act together with urgency, boldness, responsibility and, above all, in a spirit of unwavering European solidarity.
Beyond the health emergency, we are experiencing an economic shock of an unprecedented scale since 1929. I say this clearly: the crisis is and will be very serious.
All sectors of the economy are being affected, some harder and more immediately than others. But make no mistake, the consequences for our economies, jobs and societies are not yet known. And the cultural sector as a whole is not spared. I will come back to this later.
The first European response has been rapid and strong, with the injection of liquidity by the ECB, the flexible application of the Stability Pact, measures to facilitate State aid, the increase in the EIB’s liquidity support for SMEs and the EUR 100 billion solidarity instrument to help workers keep their incomes and help businesses stay afloat (SURE).
But we need to go further on a recovery plan, as announced by the European Council. In this context, I have been working for weeks on the ecosystem concept, bringing together all the relevant stakeholders. My aim is to identify the impact and needs for each of these ecosystems.
I was thus able to identify 14 coherent ecosystems, amongst which cultural and creative industries.
Cultural and creative industries in the crisis
The ecosystem of cultural and creative industries represents almost 2% of EU’s GDP, 1.8 million jobs and more than 200,000 businesses, mostly small SMEs, not to mention the number of self-employed people that characterise this very lively sector.
Beyond its inner importance, the sector is also key to the revival of tourism, with cultural tourism accounting for 40% of tourism in Europe.
The sector has been hit hard by the crisis.
Cinemas, theatres and festivals are all closed. Nearly all European audiovisual productions are at a standstill. The media are facing a dramatic fall in advertising revenue. Small local publishers, the ones closest to the citizens, are hit particularly hard, but large distributors are also struggling.
The situations of some of our journalists and of all intermittent entertainment workers are particularly precarious.
In the very short term, there are very serious liquidity issues, with the risk of bankruptcies and job losses, especially for the many freelancers of the sector. The whole industry of these small businesses that sustain our cultural diversity is at stake.
This is a serious situation, and I am not minimising it, quite the opposite. I am very aware of what is at stake. It is not just an economic reasoning that drives me, but also a terrible social reality as well as concerns for the cultural industry and what it means to us in Europe: our European values, that part of irrationality, which is impossible to perceive or quantify but which we must preserve and protect.
A European response
Given these unprecedented challenges, Member States must take specific measures, including dedicated State aid or deferral of social security contributions. We encourage them to do so.
But we are also working on the European response.
The Commission is taking all possible measures to support the sector.
In particular, the Creative Europe programme – and its MEDIA strand – will be made more flexible and adapted to the urgent needs of the industry in order to provide maximum flexibility.
We foresee an additional €5 million in support for the cinemas which are the most affected by containment.
The Cultural and Creative Sector Guarantee Facility has been a success since its launch in 2016, with €420 million of funding to more than 2000 cultural and creative projects. In the current context, we are working with the EIF on how to adapt the guarantee to make it even more attractive and useful.
Finally, the cultural and creative industries should also be beneficiaries of the European recovery plan currently being drawn up. Our priority in this respect is twofold:
- Firstly, saving the most fragile actors in the ecosystem by providing them with the necessary liquidity so that they can get through the worst of the crisis. This will also involve a necessary reorganisation and adaptation during the period of deconfinement. Returning to normality will take time.
- It will then be a matter of preparing the entire cultural ecosystem to deal with the transitions underway, such as the digital transformation. This was true before the crisis, it becomes urgent now, as the crisis is only an accelerator of pre-existing trends.
It will be necessary to start thinking together very quickly and to define a vision for the future.
The future of the audiovisual and media sector
Dear members of the CULT Committee, I would like us to carry out this reflection together.
Because, at the end of the crisis, our European media and audiovisual companies cannot find themselves weakened compared to their global peers, which would benefit from massive support schemes. This is about asserting our values and independence in terms of both content and media.
I therefore have the firm intention to work with you and all the stakeholders in order to:
- Strengthen European stakeholders through more structured cross-border cooperation;
- Maintain and strengthen a level playing field, particularly with regard to platforms;
- Preserve the budget allocated to Creative Europe, for which I rely on the Parliament’s support;
- Test new and innovative financial solutions to support the media sector, especially at local and regional level;
- Embrace digital technologies to make them great broadcasters of qualitative European content.
Furthermore, and this is my intention, I intend to maintain the announced legislative commitments.
We will adopt the guidelines on the Audiovisual Media Services Directive in July.
Work is also ongoing on guidelines for the implementation of the new rules for platforms (Article 17 of the Copyright Directive).
And of course, we will present by the end of the year the Digital Service Act, which will aim to increase the responsibility of platforms in all activities of the economy. We will do so bearing in mind the objectives of promoting media diversity and pluralism in a true single market, which will also allow European platforms to develop.
In light of this, I would like to end this statement by raising in greater detail the question of platform responsibility.
In recent weeks, I have been in contact with many CEOs of these platforms:
First with content and streaming platforms (Netflix, Youtube, Disney), as I asked them to act responsibly on the issue of internet networks’ resilience, and to voluntarily and temporarily lower the bandwidth occupation or change the default quality of videos from HD to SD. They all acted, immediately, contributing to reducing the pressure on networks.
Then with the tourism industry, hotel and e-commerce sectors, to ensure that the platforms support the smaller actors of their chains.
And finally, on the central issue of misinformation, which we have seen a worrying resurgence. Here again, I have called directly on the platforms and social networks to take responsibility, particularly in the application of the Code on Disinformation, and reduce viral spreading or remove false or misleading content.
And I note real progress, both in the responsiveness and effectiveness of the efforts made by the platforms, attesting that this is possible. However, these efforts need to be strengthened. I am working on this, in direct contact with the main players.
In this crisis, I believe that we are preparing a new relationship with these platforms, which are becoming aware of the responsibilities and obligations that come with their position. I say this without any naivety or complacency.
The platforms must also have a clear responsibility because of their position as “gate keepers” in many areas. It is up to these platforms to adapt to Europe, not the other way around. We will work together on those issues in both facets of the DSA.
I am aware of the attention and sincere interest that you and all the members of this Committee are paying to these issues. I want you to know that I share them.
You can count on me to be vocal on the vital need to support European cultural and creative industries and, through them, European culture. We are not forgetting culture in this crisis.