Policy Profile European Union


The European Union (EU) is a political and economic union of 27 countries mostly situated on the European continent. There are currently 9 candidate countries and 1 potential candidate.

Cultural Policy in the EU

The founding agreements of the European Union are the Treaty on European Union  (TEU, 1992, also known as the Maastricht Treaty) and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU, 1958, previously known as the Treaty of Rome, and amended by the Lisbon Treaty in 2009). Combined, these two international treaties between the 27 Member States are the basis of all EU law, set forth the institutions and governance of the EU. Any country seeking entry to the EU must ratify these treaties, and the treaties can only be amended by consensus between all EU Member States. 

Neither of these treaties give the EU an official competence in cultural policy or heritage. But under the TFEU, the EU is allowed to “carry out actions to support, coordinate or supplement the actions of the Member States,” with the aim of preserving and promoting Europe’s cultural heritage. In order to ensure that the social and economic role of culture is acknowledged in wider EU policy making and actions, the European Commission works on a number of key themes. It also makes sure that the complex nature of cultural and creative sectors is reflected in relevant EU legislation.

Within the European Commission, it is the Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture which is responsible for the drafting of EU cultural policies. EU funding for the cultural sector is managed by the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). There is also the Committee on Culture and Education of the European parliament.

The EU, the Member States and Heritage

The European Parliament and the European Commission have respective Liaison Offices and Representations in all 27 Member States of the EU. Each Member State of the EU maintains a Permanent Representation to the European Union in Brussels.

There is no official EU definition of culture. EU Member States are responsible for their own cultural policies, and constitutionally they retain exclusive legislative competence over this policy portfolio. But the European Commission works to address common challenges.

The EU and other European Countries

The EU maintains diplomatic representations in non-EU countries. In line with the TFEU, the European Union is committed to promoting Europe’s diverse culture in its international relations.

Currently, there are several candidate countries to become member states of the EU, and several countries that are not candidates but have close cooperation agreements (e.g. Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland). In some cases, and depending on the bilateral relationship between that state in question and the EU, this means that some non-member states may be eligible for EU funding for cultural activities, or they may even be required to unilaterally adopt EU policies on cultural heritage.

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* = This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence

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