Before the biggest-ever enlargement of the EU in 2004, we conducted an in-depth reflection process under the title Enlargement of Minds exploring the role of culture in the EU’s enlargement. The reflection groups on the Balkans, Eastern Europe, and the EU’s southern neighbourhood, led to publications, advocacy events, artistic performances, new programmes and funding lines within the ECF and beyond. Such as the:

ECF was also instrumental in the process leading to the EU’s first ever strategy for culture, the European Agenda for Culture (2007). This strategy constituted the basis for shaping EU cultural policy, and its related programmes.


Culture is Europe’s strongest asset, and it should be pivotal in how the EU conducts its relations with other countries and regions. Since 2005 ECF has been researching the cultural dimension of the EU’s external relations. 

ECF engaged from the outset with the EU’s former Wider Europe Task Force that led to EU policies and strategies towards its eastern and southern neighbourhood. Bringing cultural knowledge and experiences from these regions into European policy arenas, ECF helped securing a cultural dimension in these policies. ECF is an active contributor to the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, and part of on-going discussions on cultural cooperation strategies. By merging our advocacy expertise with local lobbying initiatives in Eastern Europe and South Mediterranean, we help build capacities to push for structural change. We facilitate mobility and exchange and make the independent voices from these regions heard at the EU policy stage.

In 2011, we joined the advocacy initiative More Europe – External Cultural Relations. This action helps to keep the doors of dialogue open between the cultural sector and the European institutions, pressing for culture to be made a competency within the European External Action Service. In Amsterdam, in September 2012, we brought together high-level Dutch and EU policy-makers, diplomats and international artists to discuss the added value of culture and creative industries in the EU’s external relations. 

Since 2012 we have been part of a European consortium mandated by the European Commission to conduct a Preparatory Action on Culture in EU External Relations. As part of a consortium led by the Goethe-Institute, we are taking part in a worldwide consultation and mapping of culture in the EU’s external relations. In May 2013 we co-initiated the international expert conference The Dwarfing of Europe? A Dialogue between Brazil, India and China.


In 2004, together with the arts umbrella organisation EFAH (now Culture Action Europe), we launched the ‘70 cents for culture campaign’ to boost EU investment in culture for the financial framework of 2007–2013. The campaign won significant support in the European Parliament and among certain Member States, ensuring that the culture budget developed, although far from the 70 cents/citizen/year. With the new Multi-Annual Financial Framework (2013-2020), seven years later, ECF joined the we are more campaign aiming to reinforce the position of culture in the new Creative Europe Programme as well as in the EU Regional Policy funds. 


For many years, ECF has stressed the vitality of Europe’s cultural diversity, exploring its expression in the arts and making it a key concern of European policy-makers. We made a concerted effort to highlight the issue at European level, and so diversity was named ECF’s overarching theme for 2005–2008. Within the 2008 European Year of Intercultural Dialogue, ECF co-founded the Platform for Intercultural Dialogue, a civil society platform dedicated to keeping the issue on the European agenda beyond the year, ensuring a legacy, and pushing for policy change on European and national level. Today, the Platform has more than 50 member organisations from 20 countries, and is a key ‘bottom-up’ dialogue partner and provider of expertise to the EU in its policy-making process, providing a space for cross-sectoral engagement, reflection and learning.


Over the past four years, we set out to uncover new narratives for Europe at a moment when Europe as a political and democratic project is highly questioned and nationalistic narratives jeopardize the process of European integration and progress. The focus new Narratives for Europe (2009-2012), allowed ECF to explore and research new European ideas and discourses. A highlight of which was the artistic and reflective four-day ECF international event, Imagining Europe (Amsterdam, October 2012) and the website Narratives for Europe. European Commission President, José Manuel Barroso launched in 2013, the project New Narrative for Europe that brings together artists, intellectual, scientists, academics, citizens in the formulation of a new vision for Europe and its underpinning narrative, recognizing and highlighting ECF’s contribution to the topic.