Q&A with MEP Niklas Nienaß

There is a new generation of politicians coming through in the European Parliament. While ‘music’ and in particular ‘pop music’ isn’t that high on the political agenda, there are at least little signs that there are few politicians who consider the needs of the creative sector a bit more than the vast majority of politicians.

ETEP.nl approached Niklas Nienaß, who can be considered one of those. At only 28, he is one of the youngest in the European Parliament, and as a member of the Green Party. Among other, things, he is a member of the Culture Committee at the European Parliament and one of the initiators, along with a group of 20 like-minded politicians, of the “Cultural Creators Friendship Group.”*

There are rumours, and some evidence, that he even enjoyed attending a music festival at least once , which is quite exceptional for most politicians. Additionally Nienaß represents a valuable opportunity to ask a political player about his view on the lack of lobbying for live music in Brussels, the awareness about pop music in political bodies and organisations, and the current status of the mission of “Music Moves  Europe”*** , created by the European Commission.

“The Cultural Creators Friendship Group (CCFG) is a cross-partisan coalition in the European Parliament (EP)”, what are the aims of this group and why in particular did you decide to use the term “cross-partisan”?
Niklas Nienaß: I initiated the CCFG more than a year ago in order to create a forum for like-minded Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) who want to work on improving the situation of the cultural ecosystem, with a specific focus on those who actually create cultural works – songwriters, musicians, producers and all other kind of authors and performers as well as cultural workers. From the beginning, my idea had been to bring together MEPs from different backgrounds in terms of nationality, parliamentary committees, and of course different political groups – hence the term “cross-partisan”. I am really happy that our CCFG has more than 20 members from all six democratic political groups. It is important to note, though, that the CCFG is not an official body of the European Parliament, but rather an informal coalition of individual MEPs. What we do during our meetings and public conferences (at the moment only virtually) is to discuss current and upcoming EU legislation of relevance to the Cultural and Creative Sectors (CCS), exchange ideas with associations representing the CCS, and to make common public statements.

In the list of objectives as part of the agenda of CCFG, the second topic is “Improving relevant legal frameworks and industry practices.” Being aware of governmental institutions, how you would describe the impact of such a group in reference to policy making in general?
The CCFG is not formally involved in any decision-making processes, so as a group we can just raise awareness about certain issues and serve as an informal forum. But of course our members are – as individual MEPs – involved in many legislative processes. For example, we are currently negotiating the next Creative Europe programme with the Council and the Commission in the inter-institutional negotiation called “trilogue”. As the European Parliament, we have been fighting hard for many things important to the CCS, for instance a bigger budget. Three negotiators from the Parliament’s side – including the main rapporteur Massimiliano Smeriglio from the Socialists and myself – are members of the CCFG, which certainly helped during the negotiations. One should not underestimate how much politics is about personal trust between politicians, and being committed to fighting for authors’ and performers’ interests unites my colleagues and me. Finally, we should not forget that the CCFG is still a relatively new group and needs some time to establish itself. So in a way we’re still sowing the seeds, and will see in the upcoming years how much impact on policy making we can really have.

The creative sector is often highlighted as being economically relevant. However, the added value of culture and in of particular popular music towards our society is politically underrated, more or less ‘below the radar” of the vast majority in political bodies and organisations? Would you say this is a generational issue, or a simply due to a lack of awareness by politicians?
I think it is both. On the one hand, the understanding of what culture is certainly differs between generations and different backgrounds. Myself, I love going to rock music festivals because of their special atmosphere, reading books the old-school way, but also playing computer games. In that respect I have probably quite a different approach to culture and what culture means from many other people from other generations and backgrounds. It’s only natural that your personal approach shapes your understanding of something, and in the case of politicians this has an influence on legislation and therefore for example on how funding opportunities are made. But even more importantly, many politicians are simply not aware of the fact that culture – apart from fulfilling its very important role of being the emotional backbone of our society and at the core of our identity – is also of huge economic relevance. The CCS account for 7.8 million jobs and roughly 4% of our European GDP, hence contributing a lot to the EU’s economy.

Brussels is a hotspot for lobbyists and bureaucrats. Which music lobby organisations are the ones who frequently approach and interact with the members of CCFG?
The demand for something like the CCFG actually came from representatives of the CCS. After my election as MEP in July 2019, I was approached by a group of 12 European umbrella organisations representing authors’ and performers’ associations, led by AEPO-ARTIS and the Society of Audiovisual Authors (SAA), who expressed their wish for MEPs to come together across political groups to support the interests of creators. This eventually led to the creation of the CCFG. And as the CCFG, we have been in touch with some of these associations with regards to specific projects or events. Just this week, the CCFG supported an online roundtable on music streaming, organised by the European Composer and Songwriter Alliance (ECSA) and co-hosted by my CCFG colleague Alexis Georgoulis and myself. As for what the CCFG members do as individual MEPs, I cannot speak for my colleagues. Myself and my team are principally open to talk to and meet any organisation, but we also reach out to individuals from the CCS – or they contact us. I believe it is important to get as many different insights as possible, especially as a young and recently elected politician. And of course, we publish all meetings on the Parliament’s website. Everything is transparent.

Well, to be fair, the names you mentioned might represent only the tip of the ‘music’ iceberg. Especially organisations and associations from the live music sector and those who hare part of the distinctive DNA for popular music are missing. Doesn’t this lead once again to the issues of pop-culture igetting lost or being neglected within the cultural mindset of politicians, despite the fact that pop music in fact is very meaningful especially for young Europeans?
Of course, I am in contact also with representatives from the live music sector. However, it is true that, in terms of lobbying, the live music sector could be more visible than it usually is. Apart from exceptional times such as the current Covid-19 crisis period, physical presence in Brussels and opportunities to meet in person cannot be underestimated in the fight for political interests. But I wouldn’t say that because of this, pop-culture is being neglected – the reasons for this are related to a general lack of awareness among politicians rather than due to lack of lobbying and presence in Brussels. The problem here is also that the European music sector is quite complex and fragmented – be it the sub-sectors such as music education, recording industry, live music, or the diversity of languages and traditions, and increasingly so with digitisation. Hence, it is difficult for anyone – including policy makers – to get a good overview on the fast evolving reality of the music sector. But hopefully the situation will change soon: mentalities are changing, decision-makers are becoming more aware of the need to support the music sector more. One indicator for this is the fact that the Commission is considering the creation of a European Music Observatory that would gather and analyse data on trends in the music sector, and thereby enable decision-makers to take informed decision.

In reference to their mission of “Music Moves Europe”, the European Commission recently published a study of the market trends and gaps in funding needs for the music sector* it says: “However, music does not benefit from a dedicated funding programme, whereas other sectors benefit from tailor-made support (e.g. the audio-visual sector with the MEDIA sub-programme under Creative Europe). While a similar programme is not realistic for the 2021-2027 period, a more targeted set of measures could contribute to addressing this funding gap.” What are the political reasons behind the fact that the launch of a tailor-made funding programme for music hasn’t been considered in the budget period 2021-2027? Is it a lack of lobbying-efforts by the sector or lack of interest within politics?
It’s true that the audiovisual sector has had a tailored programme with the well-known MEDIA programme. In 2014, MEDIA became a sub-programme (“strand”) within the new Creative Europe initiative, with two other strands being “CULTURE” and “Cross Sectorial”. Since then, the Commission, as well as the Parliament have reflected upon the possibility of installing a similar action for music within the CULTURE strand. It started with the proposal for music as a pilot project, then a preparatory action, which we in the Parliament proposed and defended, and this became “Music Moves Europe”. The question remains today of how best to integrate it within the CULTURE strand when so little money is available, and other domains are yet to be developed. In this context, in the recent Creative Europe negotiations, some of my colleagues in the Parliament and I have been fighting hard to bring more visibility to music in the CULTURE strand of the programme and to secure a stronger focus on music, even if not using the wording “Music Moves Europe” anymore in the legislative proposition. Also not to be forgotten, the programme is the result of a compromise between the legislators – the Parliament and the Council – and it is up to the European Commission to implement the programme. MEDIA is the result of a long term approach by legislators, so now it is up to us to make a new, strong CULTURE strand a reality in the next rounds of negotiations, with an even stronger lobby towards the Council to deploy and secure adequate financing for the music sector. After all, music plays an important role in both the European Cultural and Creative Sectors, reaching the widest audience and employing more people than the AV sector.

What are your conclusions regarding the results of the Creators’ Roundtable on Streaming on December 1st?
Streaming is one of the biggest issues of the music sector and a threat to a fair and diverse ecosystem. That is why I was really glad to co-host the event and support it with the CCFG. I think it was a very interesting event, and the presentations and discussions made me aware of many problems related to music streaming. Let’s just take the different payment models – I already knew of concepts such as the user-centric payment system (UCPS), but to see the actual differences in concrete numbers, to see what it means for the individual songwriter or musicians, was quite shocking. One of my personal political focusses is on fighting for a diverse and sustainable cultural ecosystem, and streaming is definitely one of the aspects I will have an even closer look at in the future. Especially in times where live music is not possible, creators are suffering even more when there are no alternative sources of a fair income.

Interview: Manfred Tari

* http://www.culturalcreators.eu/

** http://invitation.culturalcreators.eu/