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Cultural policy coordination

Proposed by the Commission as a means to revitalise cultural cooperation between the member states, the cultural OMC was taken up by the Council, generating a range of activity. The number of established WGs substantially increased during the second OMC round and numerous reports and policy documents were produced. Does this range of OMC activity signal a new phase in the development of EU cultural policy, enriching actions devised thus far mainly to support member states' cultural policies (essentially through funding allocated to cultural cooperation projects) with actions designed to coordinate national cultural policies? What does the cultural OMC reveal about the evolution of the EU's cultural policy?

The specific topics determined by the Council for the two cycles of the cultural OMC could be briefly summarised as follows: access to culture; cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue; skills and synergies between culture and education; CCIs; mobility of artists and culture professionals; and cultural heritage. Clearly, these are topics that are not new in EU cultural policy circles; most of them had received attention in the frame of the EU's culture support programmes, specifically Culture 2000 and Culture 2007-2013, adopted by the Council and the European Parliament.4 Also, they had been mentioned directly or indirectly in the Cultural Agenda (European Commission, 2007a: 8-10) and were thus substantially backed by the Commission. This shows that the cultural OMC has not been used as a means to redefine policy priorities. Rather it has engaged with topics for which support already existed at the EU level. At the same time, the cultural OMC discloses member states' willingness to move beyond cultural cooperation, understood narrowly in the form of financially assisting transnational cooperation projects, and use EU resources and procedures for debating national cultural policies in the selected set of issue areas. According to the results of a 2013 survey carried out with WG participants, the cultural OMC topics were indeed considered to be highly relevant for national policy-making (ECORYS, 2013: 22).

Policy topics that enjoy broad support by the European institutions and the member states are a prerequisite for policy coordination - the principal objective of any OMC process launched at the EU level. It may be queried, however, what policy coordination in the cultural field precisely means. Evidently, the organisation of the cultural OMC has been driven by the specific features of EU cultural policy, characterised by a high degree of subsidiarity. Voluntary member state participation has been the rule, and a flexible approach has been followed, with no benchmarking, use of indicators to assess progress towards joint goals, obligatory reporting on the part of the member states, and procedures for accounting for national performance - features which are common in the application of the OMC in other EU policy areas. Instead, the emphasis has been on knowledge sharing and policy learning. Evidence from the 2013 survey mentioned above actually suggests that participation in the cultural OMC was primarily motivated by a desire to apply the knowledge gained in national cultural policies (76.3 percent of respondents) and share national good practice (59.2 percent of respondents) (ECORYS, 2013: 23).

Rather than seeking to promote uniformity in national cultural policies by encouraging the uptake of predefined standards and by monitoring compliance with them, the cultural OMC should be seen as a means to strengthen and expand member states' cultural cooperation by building up national policy interest in the chosen policy fields. The cultural OMC does not aspire to coordinate national cultural policies by pursuing their homogenisation; it rather seeks to cater for the coordinating forces of agenda-setting through the fostering of policy debate, the sharing of knowledge and the showcasing of solutions to what are perceived to be common problems. Its instigation is based on the premise that despite the different sociocultural features of the member states, and systemic differences in the formulation and implementation of national and subnational cultural policies in Europe, states can learn from each other, and develop and improve their policies, without these becoming standardised. This is corroborated by the role that the Council has assumed in the process. Although it has been responsive to a number of Commission proposals, it has actively sought to command the operation of the cultural OMC, so as to ensure full respect for national cultural prerogatives. It has done so mainly by deciding on key issues as regards OMC participation and reporting and by determining the specific topics to be dealt with by the WGs (see Council, 2008a, 2010). True, in providing support for the WGs, the Commission might enjoy a fairly high degree of informal agenda-setting power. It seems unlikely, however, that its autonomy within the process is of such strength and breadth as to dictate directions that go against the will of the member states - an issue that could benefit from further research and analysis.

Significantly, in addition to seeking to nourish national cultural policies, the cultural OMC also aspires to feed EU cultural action. Many of the recommendations made by the WGs target EU institutions, suggesting the adoption of measures under the EU's cultural and other policies.5 From this perspective, the cultural OMC constitutes a twopronged policy exercise: it seeks to offer tailored solutions to common cultural policy challenges at the national level but also to steer the development of EU cultural activity. In fact, with regard to this latter facet of the process, the cultural OMC targets cooperative structures within the EU policy domain of culture as such, that is, the EU cultural policy proper, and policy-making structures within other EU policy domains that are related or may be linked to culture. Seen from this angle, policy coordination through the cultural OMC acquires yet another dimension: by providing systematic insight into member states' cultural policies and practices, the cultural OMC has the potential to promote better complementarity between the EU's cultural policy and national cultural policies on the one hand, and between the EU's cultural policy in the strict sense and culture-related action stemming from other EU policies on the other.

 
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