City Perspectives: The EU's impact on the creative industries
By Dr Dave O'Brien, Lecturer, Department for Creative Practice and Enterprise
The prospects for the UK's creative industries, in light of David Cameron's recent speech on Europe, present a curious question. In the first place it is necessary to consider why the question has arisen. Second it is worth making some general comments about the longstanding influence of the EU on creative industries policy. Finally, in terms of an in/out discussion, it is clear that the EU has played an important and positive role in UK creative industries that is unlikely to be replicated or replaced by the British government.
The EU question is a longstanding one in British politics. However the recent interest is more closely related to internal Conservative party politics than it is an immediate change in Britain's relationship with the EU. It is true that the economic crisis confronting nations that are part of the Euro has raised questions about the stability of the EU's economic policy structures. However it is the threat to Conservative seats at the 2015, particularly from UKIP a minor party that is overrepresented on important media platforms that shape the political agenda in the Westminster village, which has forced the need for Cameron's promise of a referendum.
Internally Cameron has provoked hostility within the Conservative party, which is at its most rebellious in recent history, over a variety of issues including equal marriage and coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Thus the EU speech is one that tells us more about Conservative party management than it does about the government's European policy. Indeed the speech itself raises considerable uncertainty, as it depends on a range of 'ifs' before there will be any referendum: if Cameron wins the next election outright, if Cameron can renegotiate a treaty with the rest of the EU member states, if this renegotiation actually provides Cameron with what he wants and if this happens what the question in any referendum would be.
Moving to focus on the creative industries there are a range of historic and current relationships where the EU has been very important and influential on the UK. This can be seen in intellectual influences, potential funding streams and practical policy outcomes. The EU's understanding of the information society was an important backdrop to the development of creative industries in the UK and narratives of the role of creative industries in the UK have an undoubted European flavour as part of what was the wider Lisbon agenda.
The EU, though its European Capital of Culture programme, has not only influenced UK urban regeneration and cultural policy but it has also provided the funding and impetus behind the use of major cultural festivals for economic development, in both Glasgow in 1990 and Liverpool in 2008. This is an important facet of cultural policy that provides the background to the faith that policy makers have placed in creative industries.
Finally, the EU provides significant funding for creative industries, particularly those outside London. Since the 1990s the EU has provided support to creative businesses, for example via Objective One funding on Merseyside and now European Regional Development Funding in the rest of England. These types of funding streams (there are many others as well) provide the essential support for the start-ups, small scale and entrepreneurial businesses that characterise many of the creative industries in the UK.
This final point is the most important. It is highly unlikely that, given the limitations of the collective economic imagination of Whitehall and Westminster, the UK would develop a regional strategy, alongside the necessary industrial strategy, to replace the lost funding and support that the EU offers. For all the issues surrounding the potential democratic deficit in the EU, the EU is vital to the developmental stages of creative industries in the UK.
Speculation is bad for creative industries as they, like every other business, require stability to operate effectively. Cameron's EU speech risks creating long term uncertainty, particularly for those organisations outside of London, in an attempt to ameliorate the internal problems of the Conservative party. This suggests the real question is not what might happen in a referendum, but rather why is this referendum being given such a notable media profile when polling suggests it is, compared to the state of the economy, a minor concern for most people.