A meeting of the Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council was held in Brussels on 25-26th November. Shan Morgan, the UK’s Deputy Permanent Representative, represented the UK for the culture, audiovisual and sport sections of the Council.
Culture and audiovisual
The Council was invited to adopt a general approach on the proposal for a recast Directive on the return of cultural objects unlawfully removed from the territory of a Member State. This proposal aims to improve the operation and effectiveness of the existing Directive and to promote co-operation between Member States. The Commission intervened to contest a reference in a recital to the establishment of a high-level expert group, emphasising that the establishment of such groups was a prerogative of the Commission. However, the Council was content with the text proposed by the Presidency and the general approach was adopted. The UK supported the adoption of the general approach.
The Council was also invited to adopt conclusions on media freedom and pluralism in the digital environment. The Presidency noted that the UK had tabled a minute statement setting out our position on EU level action in the area of media freedom and plurality. The Commission informed the Council that it intended to propose putting the EU group of audiovisual regulatory bodies on a more formal footing, and that it would continue to work closely with the Council of Europe on issues relating to media freedom. The Council was content with the text of the conclusions and they were adopted without opposition.
The Council held a policy debate on Connected Citizens: changing behaviour of viewers in the converged media environment. The debate was based on a discussion paper circulated by the Lithuanian Presidency. It was introduced by Dean Donaldson, Global Director of Media Innovation at MediaMind, who provided an overview of the rapid pace of technological change and how media companies, markets and consumers are responding. In the debate, Member States identified three key principles: pluralism, cultural diversity and protection of minors. Most Member States agreed that over-regulation could have a negative effect on the development of the market. The UK expressed its view that the current regulatory framework was broadly appropriate and did not need to be revised at this stage. However, other Member States considered that the Audiovisual Media Services Directive should be revised, in particular to change the country of origin principle to country of destination for regulation of audiovisual media services, and to deregulate in the areas of advertising and quotas for European works.
The Council was invited to adopt a Recommendation on promoting health-enhancing activities across sectors. This Recommendation encourages the promotion of health-enhancing physical activity by acknowledging the EU’s Physical Activity Guidelines, co-operation between the sport and health sectors, awareness-raising on the benefits of adopting a more active lifestyle, and physical activity in supporting active ageing. The Netherlands informed the Council that it did not consider there was a sufficient cross-border element to the issue to justify EU-level action and that it should be for the Member States to take action. Therefore, the Netherlands could not support the recommendation. However, most Member States supported the recommendation and it was, therefore, adopted. The UK considered the text to be uncontroversial and supported its adoption.
The Council also adopted conclusions on the contribution of sport to the EU economy, and in particular to addressing youth unemployment and social inclusion. The conclusions present sport as a tool to address the social challenges that young people face across Europe. The Netherlands informed the Council that it considered there were insufficient cross-border aspects to justify EU-level action; however they would not block the adoption of the conclusions. All other Member States, including the UK, were content with the conclusions which were adopted by the Council.
The Council held a policy debate on good governance in sport, based on a discussion paper prepared by the Lithuanian Presidency. The debate was introduced by Sylvia Schenk, Senior Adviser for Sport at Transparency International, who provided an overview of the key challenges and opportunities for sports organisations and for governments in supporting those organisations to implement and maintain high standards of governance.
In the debate all Member States agreed on the importance of good governance to maintaining integrity in sport and that sports organisations should remain autonomous, though with governments providing a framework to support and guide them in governance matters. The UK emphasised that good governance mattered at all levels of sport from the grassroots up to the elite and professional levels.
France presented a paper calling for the Commission to draw up a European strategy for cultural in the digital era. The French Minister argued that it was important to ensure that culture was taken into account and cultural diversity promoted in other EU policies and initiatives, in particular in relation to taxation, intellectual property and copyright, and the digital agenda. France would organise a forum on Europe and culture in Paris in April 2014. France’s proposal was welcomed by other Member States and Greece indicated that consideration of this issue would begin during the forthcoming Greek Presidency of the Council. The UK stressed that any future strategy should not impose new restrictions on areas such as the internal market, trade agreements and state aid. This position was supported by Sweden and the Netherlands. Denmark and Germany reminded the Council that culture was essentially a matter for the Member States rather than the EU.
The Presidency informed the Council about the World Conference on Anti-Doping which took place in Johannesburg on 12-15th November and the new code on anti-doping which will come into force in 2015. France informed the Council about the proposals to mark the 100th anniversary of the football matches in the trenches during the Christmas Truce of 1914. These proposals were welcomed by several Member States including the UK.
Finally, Greece informed the Council of the work programme and priorities for its forthcoming Presidency of the Council. For culture and audiovisual, this will include taking forward negotiations with the European Parliament on the Directive on the return of cultural objects unlawfully removed from the territory of a Member State; an exchange of views on a cultural strategy for the EU; consideration of the role of cultural heritage in the 21st century, including conclusions on the social and economic dimensions; further dialogue on media convergence and media freedom; and a recommendation on cinema in the digital era. For sport it will include preparing and adopting the EU work programme for sport for 2014 to 2017.