How much money is spent on culture in Europe since 2004?

The Budapest Observatory has designed charts that explore public cultural funding in the countries of the European Union for 12 years (from 2004 to 2016).

Annual COFOG statistics are updated each spring by Eurostat, displaying data with a technical delay of a year: in March 2018 statistics were presented up to 2016. 

In 2016, combined total general government expenditure in the 28 EU member states was 6,905 million euro, 39% more (in current prices) than it was in 2004. But it was 2% less than in 2015! A surprise to most of us – is public spending in Europe dwindling?

In the first diagram the fat grey line shows the dynamic of the total, what the 28 states, including their regions and cities, spent altogether on everything. We can also see the dynamic of the cultural expenditure of EU28, of the four biggest spending countries as well as of the combined data of the 11 new post-communist member states.

Culture is defined here by COFOG. Statisticians are taking pains to assure that all public expenditure on culture should be recorded in COFOG 08.2 “cultural services”, and that everything contained in this rubric was indeed “culture”, i.e. arts and heritage (but not the “creative industries”, which belong to the economy). Important: it is a fact of already accomplished allocations and not a plan or promise in the budget; furthermore it comprises the expenditure on local, regional and municipal level too.

There is a lot to tell about the image. First and most important: on an EU scale, after 2008, culture has been among the losers, in the sense that spending on cultural services has been left behind the average increase rate of total public expenditure (the fat grey line). The fallback lag has gradually grown wider.

The second observation is about the largest spenders on culture. The graph points at the UK, where during most of the 12-year period less was spent on culture than in 2004. France, on the other hand, was first untouched by the 2008 effects and kept investing in culture above the average – until 2014.  

The curve of the 11 eastern countries models the continuously ascending trend of their total general spending, although it took them longer to redress the 2008 level of cultural expenditure than it was the case with the grand total of their public budgets.

Million euro spent on culture

After relative terms – expenditure related to the GDP – we present the protagonists of the previous diagram in absolute terms, expressed in million euro spent on cultural services from public sources.

On the diagram of France the last column of 2016, despite some fallback after 2012, stands for nearly four times more money than the UK sum: 10,859 million euro in regions and cities in France versus 2,845 million in Britain.

Regardless of the latest trend of centralisation the basic pattern of public financing of culture in Europe is that the majority is spent in regions and cities. The graph on the left contains 26 countries only, as the Austrian and German administrative division to central and local has not been adjusted to the COFOG logic.

Local culture is dominant also in the public finances of the 11 eastern countries, albeit to a lesser extent. Note that their diagram is on the same scale as the one on Britain which allows for comparing dimensions.

The next couple of images display the different character of cultural finances in Poland and Hungary, the latter being centralised from the beginning, but driving it to the extreme lately.


The last graph presents the public central and local cultural expenditure of six middle sized European countries on the same scale (pity we cannot add Austria). In 2016, Swedish regions and municipalities got as much as all of the regions and municipalities in the five other countries (1,672 vs. 1,669 million euro), but the central figure of Hungary got quite close to the respective amount in Sweden.

The full version of the analysis is here.

Other interesting stories: