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Industry Report: European Policy

Public expenditure on culture in Europe


- Central, local, total

Last October we could see what percentage of the yearly gross domestic revenue is spent on culture in European countries. Eurostat has disclosed the same data for 2013:    


(The article continues below - Commercial information)

There are minor changes only from the preceding year: six countries up, new members each, and three old members down by 0.1%. The graph shows also the internal division of the expenditure between the central government budget and the municipalities. The conception of "local" in three federal countries (AT, DE, IT) does not fit into the system so they figure with the totals only. (In a few cases the parts - the central and the local - are bigger than the total, which might be due to rounding.)

Prisons and culture

In 2013 one country, Greece spent roughly the same on prisons (cofog 03.4) as on cultural services (cofog 08.2). In five more cases was the difference 0.1% of GDP only (IE, IT, NL, PT, UK).

The context

How does spending on culture relate to other domains of public expenditure? In this connection the broader category of "cofog 08: recreation, culture and religion" is applied, half of which is usually and roughly the above displayed "cofog 08.2: cultural services". 


Differences are great. Denmark and Finland are located very close to Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, but the lines in the graph reflect hugely divergent patterns, indeed philosophies of policy priorities.

Has social protection (including pensions and unemployment benefits) always dominated public spending at this rate? Defying also the financial crisis? In fact credit crunch gave it a push, the only major effect of the crisis on the structure of public expenses in Europe: 


Curves of culture

The overall position of recreation, and thus culture appears to have remained largely unchanged by the crisis. A higher resolution picture nevertheless reveals the turbulences. Statistical supply has improved and now data from 22 countries allow for a more exact analysis, including in retrospect. 


The diagram follows the same display by which we showed that a relative boom from central government budgets on culture was broken after 2008. This slump came earlier than at overall state funding; local culture was nevertheless little affected.

Later we showed that this divergence continued in 2012 (central down, local up) in the aggregated data available from 15 countries.

And what are we showing now? The European trends that we first perceived two years ago continue.

  • Spending on culture from the central budgets has been declining since the climax of the crisis, sliding down to the 2004 level.
  • In spite the fact that the total spending of central governments (altogether €794bn in the 22 countries) is about 30% higher than a decade earlier.
  • The dynamics of public financing of local (municipal) culture is stronger than public funding in general.
  • Local public cultural funding has reached double the centre figure. For the 22 countries €29.9 bn versus €14.2bn.

East end

BO habitually focuses on the eastern member states, which are extracted from the previous diagram to be shown separately. Regretfully Latvia, Romania and Slovakia are not included for lack of statistics from all ten years.


The lines in this diagram are hectic. First because they stand for smaller amounts and second, because in the eastern countries budgets show greater undulations.

  • The steep rises can be explained by a number of factors: economic consolidation, injections of EU funds, and increasing amount of state debts.
  • 2008 brought more cruel cuts in cultural expenditure than in the west, both centrally and locally.
  • Central cultural funding began to recover in 2011-2012, in difference from the old member states where the relative decline continues.
  • Although the dynamics of local cultural financing was regularly higher than in the west, municipal cultural funding in the eight countries has barely regained its pre-crisis position.

West end

We spare you from one more graph for the old member countries. The size of the western budgets represents such a weight that a picture of their own looks very much the same as the diagram of all 22 countries. To illustrate proportions: the end point of the thick red line, i.e. total central government expenditure of 11 old member countries in 2013 was €720bn; that of the 8 eastern members in their separate graph only €58bn.


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