Memo September 2006


A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in September 2006

Expenditure, subsidies, creative cities. Weighty themes, beware.

Our June memo discussed money spent on literary translation from the coffers of Culture 2000. We concluded that the average - calculated as 0,25 cents per year per EU citizen - barely covers the fee for the quality translation of one character. This we based on the information that in our region publishers can get a standard page quality translation for €10.

In September the European Court of Auditors disclosed a report on translation expenditure of the institutions of the EU (the Parliament, the Commission and the Council). The estimated average cost of translation in 2003 was €98,05 per page.

We know, we know, these two figures are not directly comparable.

The auditors' report did not reveal scandalous faults or wastages. The list of warnings and recommendations does not go beyond the usual reprimands that auditors habitually make.

The cost of live interpretation was examined by the same European Court of Auditors a year earlier. See, for example the correctness and tact in the language:

"Due to the character of parliamentary work it is difficult to forecast precisely the need of interpretation facilities. However, the Court of Auditors is of the opinion that a greater effort could be made in view to establishing the real needs and to increasing cost awareness." 

But behind this soft scolding are facts like the following: in 2003 over €10 million was wasted on interpretation services made available but not used.

BO would hate to sound simplistic or demagogical, yet cannot help reminding that in that year Culture 2000 spent €2 million on literary translation projects. 

Commenting that costs of interpretation and translation amount to nearly one per cent of the EU budget, Finnish MEP Alexander Stubb, the rapporteur of the issue to the Parliament, said: "this is not too high a price to pay for democracy". Not too high, maybe, but very high, still.

A bit of consolation
After telling about miseries in literary translation, BO is pleased to inform about a new announcement on translation grants for cultural periodicals in east and central Europe.

Culture in the EU treaties
The BO memo in August dwelt on Article 151, as if confirming the simplification that it is the only or the most important mention of culture in the EU treaty.

In fact, BO believes that Article 87(3)(d) is at least as important. Distorting competition is the evil that the EU persecutes with the greatest vehemence. Now 87(3)(d) affirms that aid to promote culture and heritage conservation is compatible with the common market.

The force of this article is most often discussed with regard to film making.

What's wrong about state aid?
On 13 September the Commission released news about a future study on the economic and cultural impact of territorialisation clauses of state aids schemes for films and audiovisual productions. The virtual pocket encyclopedia of the EU audio-visual pages explains "territorialisation": Some member states require film producers receiving aid to spend a specific amount in the territory of the supporting country. Others disagree, and this prompted the Commission to seek researched opinion.

Digging deeper makes BO to report belatedly about a meeting held in June, the Copenhagen Think Tank, when 160 experts discussed "Why (do) we fund film?" The briefing to the conference stated that the use of public subsidy - which is behind the 700 films produced annually in Europe - is an abject failure in most countries. Territorialisation is particularly blamed, also in the kick-off paper to the meeting.

BO is curious about the findings of said study ordered by the Commission. And BO regrets that there is nobody from our region among the 26 European members in the team that in this matter advises to the Danish Film Institute.

Creative capital cities came together
In Ljubljana. BO was there, too. The capital cities of the EU presented what they found creative in their past and future developments. Copenhagen, Dublin and Tallinn appeared particularly determined to regenerate industrial sites into creative quarters. BO fancied Enzimi, a programme that has been wandering about Rome since 1997, each year invading a different area with various cultural projects; this September the San Lorenzo district and the Termini railway station.          

Some participants were taken aghast by the London presentation, which, while emphasising the role of creative industries in generating jobs and income, explicitly excluded the arts and heritage, on the ground that the traditional cultural sector largely relies on subsidies. BO finds this an erroneous and dangerous stance, relegating culture to a position of costly nuisance of a modern metropolis like the sewage sytem. 

BO got excited on hearing that Luxembourg is busy working on a system of audio guides that can be accessed via mobile phones of visitors to the city, a project to be installed in the frames of 2007 cultural capital of Europe. This was one of the pet items in the Budapest bid for the same title in 2010.

Festivals enough?
The home page of the Enzimi project claims: "Questo non è un festival!"

The summary of what BO found about the festival phenomenon is available now both in print and in pdf.

Help the Commission

While working on Culture 2000 under Eastern Eyes, BO grumbled a lot about the abysmal state of the lists on display on the europa site but never thought of tackling to transforming it into a decent digital bank. And lo, Euclid has done it with its Cupid database that contains the basic information about any cultural co-operation project granted by Culture 2000 during the past six years.