Speech by Šarūnas Birutis, Minister of Culture, at the European Parliament, Culture and Education Committee

10 July 2013, Last updated at, 10:19 EEST
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Šarūnas Birutis | author: European Parliament

Madame Chair, Honorable members of the Committee, Dear friends,

I am going to present the main priorities and initiatives of the Lithuanian Presidency of the European Union Council in the field of culture and audiovisual affairs.

I would like to begin by noting that the Presidency of the Council of the European Union is a great challenge for our country and at the same time a great opportunity for us to contribute to building a united, strong and competitive Europe.

Over the next six months our main focus will be on constructive negotiations with the EU institutions and Member States with a view to achieving the best possible results. Lithuania will seek to ensure a smooth and uninterrupted legislative process as an honest and impartial broker with the involvement of all relevant stakeholders. Only by working together we can achieve results that are important for all of us.

Having in mind the huge importance of the role of the European Parliament, representing the interests of 500 million European Union citizens, in today’s decision making process, we will seek constructive, productive and mutually beneficial cooperation with the European Parliament during our Presidency.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank my colleagues from the Irish Presidency for their tremendous effort and work in leading the negotiations on the main EU new-generation programmes for the cultural and audiovisual sectors, and for the significant progress they achieved. We remain further committed to achieving the goals set in Trio Presidency programme.

Among the common priorities of the Lithuanian Presidency the greatest focus will be placed on the measures to restore credibility in the EU’s economy, to facilitate growth and jobs, to deepen the Single Market and to ensure the financial stability of the EU. A Credible, Growing and Open Europe is the main goal of the Lithuanian Presidency.

Culture and creativity play a crucial role in achieving these goals. One of the most important tasks for me today is to highlight the role of the creative sector in ensuring smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

We should stop thinking about culture as an absorber of resources since culture and creativity play an important role in developing a more cohesive, sustainable and happier society. Participation in culture gives individuals the opportunity to express themselves freely, the ability to accept differences, as well as to develop the necessary social and creative skills.

Culture is the basis of the present diversity and communality of our identity, national and European.

Culture-based creativity is an engine of our present-day economy with the cultural and creative industries growing faster and in a more stable way today than many other sectors in the economy, creating more than 7 million jobs in the EU.

We unequivocally support the June 18 resolution of the Culture and Education Committee regarding the importance of Europe's cultural and creative sectors for economic and social development and the need to ensure a long-term strategy at EU level by means of the appropriate financial instruments.

It is very important for me, that we are thinking the same way: there is a strong need to strengthen the role of culture in addressing current social and economic challenges through the closer interaction of cultural policy with other sectors of EU policy in order to promote integrated approach and to contribute to smart and sustainable growth.

These questions will be discussed during our events in Vilnius. I am very happy that the Chair of this Committee has already agreed to take part in the conference on the subject mentioned above.
Dear members of the European Parliament,

During the Lithuanian Presidency we look forward to a fruitful cooperation with the Parliament on the adoption of the decision establishing a new Union action for the European Capitals of Culture for the years 2020 to 2033 in order to ensure the smooth continuity of one of the best-known EU cultural initiatives and one of the most valued by its citizens. Ministers of Culture reached a common approach on this document at the Council in May.

We would like to thank this Committee for its comments and opinions. After examination, we see that our positions are very close. We will work closely with the European Parliament in working out any remaining minor differences of opinion, and we will seek a constructive solution for the programme to enter into force in time so the first countries to which the new rules will be applied, Ireland and Croatia, can launch the necessary procedures by the end of this year.

We will pay considerable attention to other legislative processes and, despite the rather complex financial circumstances, related to common budgetary cuts, we will look for the best solutions in seeking to ensure their smooth implementation from 1 January 2014. That’s the Creative Europe programme, supporting cultural and creative sectors, and Europe for citizens programme supporting cultural and creative sectors, and the Europe for Citizens programme, promoting European citizenship and preserving the remembrance of common European history.

We are very pleased with the positive cooperation with the Parliament; the end of the negotiations regarding the Creative Europe programme is already very close. The negotiations have been carried out in a highly constructive working atmosphere and I think that the agreement achieved will satisfy the expectations of both the Parliament and the Council, and most importantly, the expectations of the culture and audiovisual sectors.

The progress is also achieved on the Europe for Citizens programme which is of particular importance in understanding and promoting values that we all hold in common and in fostering European citizenship. Thanks to constructive cooperation between the Council and the Parliament, we have managed to overcome our differences and find solutions.

Council will soon formally transmit the agreed text with a request for the Parliament’s consent.

We regret the fact that circumstances are forcing us to reduce the budget of this the most important EU initiative in the field of culture. However, we have no doubt that the new programme will give a serious boost to the cultural, audiovisual and creative sectors to operate in a smart way, to innovate and to develop. I remain optimistic that the programme's projects very important for the European society will be successfully implemented.

Madame Chair, Honourable Rapporteurs, Mr Marco Scurria, Madame Silvia Costa, Mr Hannu Takkula, Honourable Members of the Committee, the Lithuanian Presidency sincerely thanks you all for a successful and constructive collaboration.

As for new initiatives in the field of culture, Lithuania will lead the discussions concerning a proposal from the European Commission, adopted on the 30th of May, regarding the revision of the Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the return of cultural objects unlawfully removed from the territory of a Member State.

This Council Directive was adopted in 1993, when the internal frontiers were abolished, in order to protect cultural objects that are classified as national treasures. This Directive seeks to reconcile the fundamental principle of free movement of goods with the need for effective protection of national treasures.

The assessments of the Directive have shown that its effectiveness is limited.

The aim of recasting the Directive is to enable Member States to secure the return of any cultural object which is classified as a national treasure, to simplify and make more efficient the procedures applied in the Directive, reinforce the cooperation between the Member States at the administrative and exchange of information levels, and use the Internal Market Information System for that purpose.

We will seek to adopt a common approach in the Council in November this year. We hope to work together with your Committee on this important issue.

In the audiovisual sector, Lithuania will initiate a policy debate within the Council regarding the transformation of the audiovisual media landscape affected by new technological developments. Special emphasis will be given to the development of Connected TV and changes in the audiovisual services and media market, most importantly, to the progressive merger of traditional broadcast services and the internet. For this reason, I am delighted that the European Parliament also adopted a resolution last Thursday on this issue. This resolution will become an important basis for debate at the Council. On a separate note, I would like to offer my congratulations to Madame Rapporteur Petra Kammerevert on her excellent evaluation of the environment and the relevance of the provisions proposed.

Lithuania will emphasize the need to guarantee media pluralism and freedom under new conditions. We will seek to hear the views of all relevant stakeholders on the need for more coordinated action at EU level. This issue will be discussed at the Informal Meeting of Ministers in Vilnius on 2 October.

The challenge today for politicians is how to find a way in this rapidly changing technological environment to ensure the diversity of European content and access to it; to safeguard the diversity and quality of media in Europe; and at the same time to create a competitive environment which will nourish innovation. Acting together we can create a reliable system that will ensure the wide availability of access to content, the protection of the most vulnerable groups of consumers and the promotion of European values.

We foresee a lot of attention being directed to access to culture in the digital environment. Lithuania will continue to promote the development of Europeana, the EU public digital library, with the aim of furthering cooperation between Member States and Europeana, as well as the dissemination of digitised cultural heritage. Lithuania would like to draw attention to the fact that Europeana needs a sustainable funding model since its role is crucial in ensuring European cultural diversity as well as the preservation and promotion of European values.

Lithuania is also ready to initiate discussions concerning the challenges of the distribution of digital content in examining the issue of European film in the digital era. One of the key issues to be addressed in this area is the digitisation of films and cinemas and the on-line distribution of films (using various platforms such as mobile devices or smart TV), thereby at the same time ensuring the preservation of archive materials. These are important actions in ensuring access to and the promotion of European film.
Honourable Members of the Committee,

I would like to thank you all once again for giving me this opportunity to speak to you about the main priorities of our Presidency. We will be able to achieve the goals set only through close and efficient co-operation. As regards certain programmes very concrete results are expected from us and we are ready to begin our work.

Having focused on the most important themes of our Presidency, I would not want to forget something as important as the inspiring cultural and art projects which Lithuania is presenting during its Presidency over the next six months. These projects will involve the most talented Lithuanian artists and showcase the dynamic culture and art scene of Lithuania in Brussels, Ghent, and in a number of European cities. This programme will give us the opportunity to present our country through its culture and I hope that it will yet again bear witness not only to the power of culture and art but also to the essential importance of the diversity of cultures and the things that bring us together.

I look forward to our successful and, most importantly, productive cooperation in the future and would like to thank you for your attention. And now, Madame Chair, I will be happy to answer any questions the Committee members may have.

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