|glossary - Article 151|
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With the Treaty of Maastricht, signed on 7 February 1992 and entered into force on 1 November 1993, the European Union (EU) added for the first time an article on culture to its legal structure. Until then, culture had not been recognised as a European competency. Article 151 (ex article 128) regulates cultural activities at European level and is the basis for initiatives such as the Culture programme.
The article asks the EU to support the cultures of its member states “while respecting their national and regional diversity, and at the same time bringing their common cultural heritage to the fore” (Clause 1). It reconciles the idea of a ‘common cultural arena’ that is built on a shared history and heritage with the intention to foster a ‘European cultural identity’ on the one hand, and the concept of its diversity that needs to be safeguarded on the other.
As concerns the scope for Community action, the main focus of the article lies on cooperation and exchange, notably on non-commercial cultural exchange, which is of particular importance in relation to the increasing dominance of the so-called “cultural industries” and other economic aspects of culture on the international level. But Clause 2 of the Article speaks only of the ‘culture and history’ (singular!) of the European peoples, and thus excludes many people living in Europe or cultural elements of non-European origin that have influenced or have intersected with the European cultural field. This restriction is only partly opened up in Clause 3, which encourages the cooperation with third countries and the relevant international cultural organisations, in particular the Council of Europe.
While cultural cooperation as a main objective represents a very limited field of activity, Clause 4, which stipulates that the European Commission must ‘take cultural aspects into account in its action under other provisions of this Treaty’, implies a wide-ranging field of concerns. It marks the important recognition of the transversality of culture and establishes a formal relation between culture and other segments of European policy. It asks not only for a critical assessment of how culture could be impaired by decisions in other policy areas of the EU such as trade, employment, development, etc., but also allows cultural operators to claim a share from resources in these fields (e.g. Structural Funds). The ‘mainstreaming of Culture’ is a stated of objective of the new European Agenda for Culture, and the European Commission published in May 2007 an Inventory of Community actions in the field of culture accompanying its Communication on Culture. Implementation of this commitment to further mainstream culture in other relevant EU policies is still to be systematised.
Article 151 also stipulates in Clause 5 that every action concerning culture at EU level is subjected to the threefold requirement of the exclusion of harmonisation, the principle of subsidiarity and unanimity in decision-making. This last requirement will be modified by the Treaty of Lisbon signed by the Member States on the 13th of December 2007. This new treaty, in the process of ratification, extends qualified majority voting to 40 policy areas, including culture.