After COVID’s devastating effect on arts, MEPs propose minimum working conditions for artists

MEPs want European Commission to create a “European Status of the Artist” setting out a common framework for working conditions and minimum standards for all EU countries

A Zabbar graffito mural by artists Justink’s depicts an important memento of the pandemic’s heroes, the national health service
A Zabbar graffito mural by artists Justink’s depicts an important memento of the pandemic’s heroes, the national health service

Members of the European Parliament could be edging forward to legislate a proper statutory nomenclature for artists in Europe that will grant them a common set of working conditions and minimum standards.

The MEPs from the Culture and Education Committee voted by 26 votes in favour, none against and three abstentions, for the European Commission to propose a “European Status of the Artist”, setting out a common framework for working conditions and minimum standards for all EU countries, while fully respecting member states’ competencies on their labour market and cultural policy.

The vote sets the stage for another vote, this time a resolution that should be voted on by Parliament in October’s second plenary session.

In the approved text, MEPs call on member states and the European Commission to remove all barriers to cross-border mobility, revising, if need be, administrative requirements on visas, taxation, and social security, as well as on the recognition of arts-based education degrees.

This is because the differences in national legislation on an artist’s legal status and its cross-border recognition hinder collaboration and mobility.

The pandemic exposed the pre-existing labour vulnerabilities of artists and cultural workers: the arts is a field of employment characterised by intermittence, fragile livelihoods, weak or absent social security, MEPs say. Huge differences persist between Member States regarding support, social benefits and definitions of an artist.

According to a recent report written by Ernst & Young revenues in the cultural and creative sectors plunged by 31% in 2020 compared to 2019. The sectors were hit even harder than tourism, which lost 27% of its income. In 2020, the cultural sector lost approximately €200 billion in revenues. However, the economic impact of halting production will only be evident from 2021.

The sector faces an uncertain future. COVID-19 accelerated precariousness and inequity. Facing destitution, many professionals may leave the sector and thousands of institutions may close. With them, accumulated knowledge and skills would be permanently lost, and the cultural and creative ecosystem would be profoundly weakened.

Artists are now exposed to unfair practices by dominant digital streaming platforms, such as buy-out clauses that deprive authors or their royalties. To remedy that, MEPs want the Commission and Member States to ensure artists and cultural workers have access to collective bargaining and to strongly enforce protection for works and their creators in national copyright legislation.

Several factors explain the precariousness of artists: artists and cultural workers have atypical work patterns. These include the non-standard nature of their working conditions, status and income, the unpredictability of the end product of artistic work and of its reception, the fact that artistic creation is both time- and labour-intensive, business models driven by artistic excellence and other societal values rather than market goals.

Artists and cultural workers are also more likely to work part-time, not to have an open-ended contract, and to combine employment and self-employment in several countries throughout their careers, and in other sectors such as services and education. Self-employment is higher in the cultural and creative sectors (33%) than in employment for the total economy (14%).

MEPs will urge member states to defend artistic freedom in order to uphold the right to freedom of expression and ensure that EU citizens can freely enjoy artistic creations. They will also urge the Commission to sanction EU countries that fail to uphold these freedoms.

“With this report, we have sent a strong message to improve cross-border mobility for artists, authors, cultural creators and cultural workers. It will help to give artists a better and more secure livelihood by clarifying their status and simplifying access to social security. And we will fight to solve the problems artists face today, be it on discrimination based on gender, race, origin or sexual orientation or be it political repression, which we all know is much too prominent in the EU nowadays,” said rapporteur Monica Semedo (Renew, LU).

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