Budget cuts mean uncertain future for Europeana

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This Tuesday Europeana will meet with the European Commission to make its case for continued funding. Siân Harris finds out why

The future of Europeana, the five-year old digital collection of materials from memory institutions across Europe, is uncertain thanks to planned cuts in the European Commission’s budget.

From January 2015 the Commission’s Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) budget, which covers a wide range of broadband and other telecoms activities and will also include projects like Europeana, will be cut from €9 billion to €1 billion.

The cuts, which were announced earlier this year, mean that Europeana needs to compete for a share of this much smaller pot of money against things like e-safety, e-health, e-government and e-justice, as well as broadband and other telecoms projects.

According to Jill Cousins, executive director of Europeana, the project is campaigning on three fronts to be considered for continued financial support. First, the team is lobbying members of the European Parliament (MEPs). This, said Cousins, is going very well. ‘They’ve adopted all of our changes to the proposal so that there is the possibility of getting funding.’

The second strand of the campaign is to lobby the Commission’s audio visual committee, councils and ambassadors from member states. Part of this involves partner museums, art galleries, libraries and other places tweeting their support for the project.

The third part of the campaign is directed at the Commission itself. This involves showing that the project can become self-sustaining. ‘We will reach a point where we could generate revenue, directly or indirectly, but we need time to get to that point,’ explained Cousins. ‘The idea is to capitalise on the €1.2-1.6 billion investment that has been made in digitisation over the past few years.’

According to a leaflet produced by the Europeana campaign, ‘To date, 770 businesses, entrepreneurs, educational and cultural organisations are exploring ways of including Europeana information in their offerings (websites, apps, games etc.) through our API.’

The campaign website says that Europeana and related projects currently cost €30 million per year. However, Cousins said that only a minority of this budget is spent internally. ‘We’ve only seen about €4 million per year ourselves. The rest of the money goes to projects that Europeana funds, for example to do digitisation,’ she said.

Europeana involves partners in over 2,200 memory institutions across the continent, as well as 1,000 network partners. It makes available around 27 million digitised objects including books, paintings, films and audio under a CC0 licence. ‘For me, Europeana should be for everybody, and it can help fuel the creative industries in Europe,’ commented Cousins. Europeana’s activities also include work in standardisation, interoperability and multilingualisation. The project has standardised the data from all its partner organisations, covers all European countries and includes objects in 29 European languages.

According to Europeana’s campaign leaflet, ‘Europeana is a catalyst for change for cultural heritage.’ It goes on to say, ‘we provide creative industries and business start-ups with rich, interoperable material, complete with copyright information.’

And there are said to be benefits to the individual too. The leaflet says: ‘we ensure that every citizen, whether young or old, privileged or deprived, can be a digital citizen. Europeana has been transformative in opening up data and access to cultural heritage and now leads the world in accessible digital culture that will fuel Europe’s digital economy.’

In a recent interview with Research Information, Dan Cohen of the new Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) attributed much the DPLA’s fast and smooth roll out to the advice and technology of Europeana. In Asia, the Korea Copyright Commission has also signed an agreement to copy Europeana’s model.

Whatever happens with the current campaign, there will definitely be a drop in funding. In the worst-case scenario for the project, it will cease to exist. However, Cousins is hopeful that it will not come to this.

‘I’m fairly confident we’ll be in the guidelines for the next round [of the funding review]. We’ve got a lot of really good support in really good places,’ she said. ‘Overall we will see a cut but we could do a lot with about €12 million per year to support activities,’ she predicted, adding that the project is also looking into other sources of funding.

The Europeana team is presenting its case to the European Commission on Tuesday 16 July and at another council meeting on Thursday 18 July.