Why social cohesion is vital for Europe
Emerging from a range of crises, Europe faces growing social inequalities, diverse populations, populism, radicalisation and other threats. Supporting the role of culture is a vital aspect of building social cohesion. Culture is essential for avoiding conflicts and for conflict resolution. It is an ideal means of communicating across language barriers, empowering people and facilitating social cohesion, including among refugees, migrants and host populations. It prevents marginalisation of people based on their cultural identity, socio-economic status, age and other factors.
Cultural participation also improves health and well-being. Living close to places related to Europe's cultural heritage can improve quality of life, while cultural access is one of the most important determinants of psychological well-being.
The role of the Commission
The Commission aims to enhance social cohesion by promoting culture and cultural life and by strengthening access to culture through civic engagement, promoting cultural initiatives and growing a sense of individual empowerment and democratic consciousness.
The Commission’s policies and initiatives in this area give particular attention to the interests and needs of disadvantaged groups, such as, for instance, young people, older generations, individuals with disabilities, people from a migrant or refugee background and people living in poverty or material deprivation.
To achieve the best possible results from cohesion and well-being practices, cooperation is encouraged with other areas, such as education, social care, healthcare, science and technology as well as regional and urban development.
EU support for culture and social cohesion
Learning from the past
The Commission has led on a variety of initiatives harnessing the power of culture and cultural diversity for social cohesion and well-being. Since 2008, the Commission has identified social cohesion as one of the priority areas of its cultural policy. The European year for intercultural dialogue (2008) and the Platform for Intercultural Europe (2008-2013) can be highlighted in this respect.
Between 2017 and 2019, the Commission also convened an Open Method of Coordination EU Member States’ expert group which produced guidelines for policy makers and cultural institutions on the theme ‘From social inclusion to social cohesion: the role of culture policy’ (2019).
During the period between 2016 and2017, the European Commission convened another Open Method of Coordination group to discuss the integration of migrants and refugees in societies through the arts and culture.
Another important document introducing the mission of public cultural institutions to promote social cohesion is the Report on the Role of Public Arts and Cultural Institutions in the Promotion of Cultural Diversity and Intercultural Dialogue (2012-2014). The idea of the report is to help dedicated public cultural institutions, artists and communities as well as policymakers to harness the potential of culture for the benefit of all.
Preparing the future
The New European Agenda for Culture, adopted in 2018, has further strengthened the social dimension of the cultural policy.
Following the Covid-19 pandemic and its huge impact on our daily lives, the European Union has increased its attention to the contribution of culture to health and well-being and aims to address it at a larger scale and in a more strategic way:
Already in 2020, DG EAC organised an online workshop for EU Member States on culture and active ageing as well as on the topic of culture, health and well-being. This workshop was part of the Council Work Plan for Culture 2019-2022.
In 2021 the preparatory action Bottom-Up Policy Development for Culture & Well-being in the EU was launched with the aim to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and experience among decision-makers and practitioners at European, national, regional and local levels. .. This action is funded by the European Parliament with the support of the Directorate General for Education and Culture.
The project CultureForHealth was selected to implement the action, and wishes to inspire a true policy change at all levels, bringing together the health, culture, education and social sectors, through extensive research, a mapping of existing policies and initiatives and pilot projects in 6 EU countries. The project published a report on 16 November 2022, showcasing the findings of over 300 scientific studies and 500+ projects that show art and culture’s contribution to health and wellbeing.
The Creative Europe programme is currently the main source of funding for projects in this area. Moreover, Erasmus +, Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe have funded and continue to fund projects that link culture, health and well-being. The brochure Culture: a driver for health and wellbeing in the EU (published in November 2022) gathers good practice examples carried out under these funding programmes.
Also in November 2022, the European Commission and the European Parliament organise a joint seminar on culture, health and well-being that will gather speakers from all over Europe and from very different backgrounds: medical practitioners, cultural actors, architects, municipalities, among others.
Dialogue with civil society
Social inclusion is also on the agenda of the EU’s structured dialogue with civil society, called. “Voices of Culture”, Discussions took place with stakeholders on the following relevant themes:
- Promoting intercultural dialogue and bringing communities together through culture in shared public spaces (2016)
- The role of culture in promoting the inclusion or refugees and migrants (2016)
- Social inclusion: partnering with other sectors (2017-2018)
- The inclusion of refugees and migrants through culture (2019)
- The role of culture in non-urban areas of the EU (2019)
In 2022, Voices of Culture focuses on Youth, Mental Health and Culture, among other topics. One of the outcomes of the dialogue on this theme will be a report on the role of the cultural and creative sectors in improving the mental health of young people. The report will be published in the beginning of 2023. The framework paper for the discussions is available here.
What are the next steps?
The Creative Europe programme holds regular open calls for projects within the EU and beyond. These projects can help, for instance, promote intercultural dialogue, support the integration of refugees and migrants; and give a voice to artists and audiences with physical and mental health issues.