The budget proposal for culture and education is a result of new priorities laid down by the Ministers for Nordic Co-operation as part of work on the new vision of the Nordic Region as the most integrated and sustainable region in the world in 2030. The Committee for Knowledge and Culture discussed the issue at an online meeting during the Nordic Council Theme Session.
“The Committee cannot accept the budget proposal for the culture and education sector, which risks having far-reaching consequences for stakeholders of all sizes in the Nordic countries. It is worrying that the co-operation ministers seem to be ignoring criticism from so many quarters and sticking to their guns despite the situation the culture sector finds itself in due to COVID-19,” says the Committee chair, Kjell-Arne Ottosson.
Grants cut to established institutions and programmes
Specifically, the plans would lead to cuts of up to 18% of the total budget for culture and 17% for education in the period 2021–2024 (4.5% from culture and 3.5% from education in 2022). Resources for activities under the remit of the culture ministers would be cut according to the “salami-slicer principle” and there is a danger of grants to a number of institutions, programmes and initiatives being dropped from the culture budget completely, for example to the documentary and short film festival Nordic Panorama, seminars for debut writers at Biskops Arnö, Nordic Library Week, the Nordic Journalist Center, Orkester Norden and Circolo Scandinavo in Rome.
“We risk dismantling successful and established initiatives like the short film festival Nordic Panorama and the debut author seminars at Biskops Arnö. These are popular, well-run gateways to exchange Nordic experiences and work together, in particular to engage young people involved in culture in the Nordic Region,” Ottosson continues.
Dramatic situation for culture
Despite the fact that the culture ministers wanted to safeguard their funding schemes, the proposal includes cuts to both the Nordic Culture Fund and the Nordic-Baltic Mobility Programme). Nordic language co-operation also faces savings of approximately 20%.
“Such major savings will be dramatic for the cultural sector throughout the Region. Whether it be the Nordic houses that act as meeting places and mediators of culture, history and language or projects like Orkester Norden. Including funding schemes in the savings will affect individual artists and cultural practitioners in particular. We need to stand up for culture,” says committee member Jorodd Asphjell MP (NO).
He is backed by colleague and fellow committee member Norunn Tveiten Benestad.
“In culture, small amounts often generate big results. We understand the need to prioritise in pursuit of the vision, but it is unacceptable that the culture and education sectors should bear the brunt of the costs of realising the Nordic Council of Ministers’ Vision 2030.”
Call for party groups to discuss cuts
The short-term consequences are beginning to become visible, but the Committee is concerned about the long-term consequences as well as the status of culture and education as bridge builders in Nordic co-operation.
“These cuts risk making culture invisible in Nordic co-operation, and the long-term consequences could be wide-ranging. We need to have a real discussion in the party groups,” says committee member Camilla Gunell (Åland).
The Committee for Knowledge and Culture is aware that internal budget priorities are complicated but is urging colleagues in the party groups to discuss the issue in detail at their summer meetings.
“The budget proposal is like rubbing salt into the wounds of an already hard-pressed sector, and we want to be as thrifty as possible. We urge all of the party groups to discuss the budget proposal and measures at their summer meetings,” Ottosson concludes.
The party groups will now discuss the budget proposal at their summer meetings. They will then submit proposals to the Presidium, which will draw up a prioritised list of amendments. After that, the President of the Nordic Council and the chair of Nordic Ministers for Co-operation will discuss the proposed amendments. The amendments they agree on will then be put to the annual Session of the Nordic Council in November.