ON THE BLOG: UK as a ‘third country’ in the context of European cultural cooperation

This guest blog post from Alexandra Büchler, director of Literature Across Frontiers, is a companion piece to a previous post by Clymene Christoforou about what being a third country participant in the Creative Europe programme may mean for UK organisations, following a presentation by both contributors at a Creative Europe Desk UK session aiming to prepare UK-based Creative Europe beneficiaries for the end of the transition period. 


The new Creative Europe programme will be launched in spring 2021, having secured an increased budget. The announcement made in February 2020 that participation in the programme would become another Brexit casualty added to Britain’s international reputational damage: the country that had consistently performed so well in the highly competitive European co-financing programme would join Turkey, so far the only country to withdrawn on ideological grounds, and reminded us that participation in such programmes is not contingent on EU membership, as 40 countries participated at the time of the last call which was the last one the UK was eligible to take part in.  

An emotional response to these changes is only natural: how can we not feel a sense of grief as our very identity is being redefined against our will and the ties with our nearest neighbours and partners are being severed. But we are also responding to the practical implications: to being barred from access to a source of financial support that had until now made it possible to initiate and partner in multilateral cooperation projects and to the loss of freedom to travel and work in the wider Europe.

Literature Across Frontiers has developed with sustained support from the successive EU culture programmes, leading large cooperation projects for two decades. During the last fifteen years these projects included work outside Europe, particularly in the MENA region and parts of Asia, and concrete examples of these were given in my presentation on the subject. This was possible due to the evolving external cultural relations agenda of the EU and to the flexibility of the financial guidelines that permitted up to 30% of the budget to be spent on ‘third country’ elements of the implemented activities 

Over the years we have made the most of this possibility and, as the only European literary platform, we have developed links with cultural and educational organisations in third countries to set up collaborative projects which created an interface between literary Europe and other global regions. This would not have been possible without the support of UK institutions such as the Arts Council Wales, British Council and Wales Arts International whose funding financed the UK element of the financial mosaic we had to construct for each activity. This strategy allowed us to work with third-country literary festivals, book fairs, educational institutions and cultural NGOs in a sustainable way and to implement activities that broadened the scope of European cultural involvement in other regions and made it possible for us to build a growing network of connections and partnerships. However, this was possible only with considerable effort being invested in planning, fundraising and coordination so that any expenditure on these projects would be fully matched to make up for the budget contributions normally expected from partners. 

The consequences of UK’s departure from the EU for the creative sector are therefore reputational, structural, logistical and financial. Removal of the freedom of movement will have an impact on the practical aspects of cultural cooperation, as British artists will no longer be entitled to travel for work in the wider Europe without visas or permits, and vice versa. Any paid artistic engagement will become complicated because of additional paperwork and costs. As a result, UK organisations are likely to become less attractive as partners unless they bring sufficient funds to the table not only to make up for their lack of contribution to the matched budget but also to cover any extra costs such as visa fees and related administration. 

Finding ourselves in the position of a third-country organisation after almost fifteen years of initiating and coordinating European projects involving third countries is an unwelcome reversal of fortune. However, as the reality of hard Brexit becomes felt in myriad ways, we are continuing our European work despite the mounting obstacles and are part of the lobby for their removal and for the promised Creative Europe replacement funding programme as well as introduction of targeted funding that will allow organisations with similar expertise and experience to remain in European partnerships and networks and help others to do the same. 

Alexandra Büchler is director of Literature Across Frontiers (LAF), a Wales-based platform for literary exchange, translation and policy debate with a long-standing record of European collaboration.  LAF is currently leading the Creative Europe-supported project Literary Europe Live Plus focused on exiled and refugee writers in Europe and is a partner in Ulysses Shelter and LEILA: Arabic Literature in European Languages. 


Please note: Opinions expressed by our guest blog contributors are independent of Creative Europe Desk UK and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Desk, our partners or Creative Europe.


IMAGE: Literature Across Frontiers, Literary Europe Live