Europe discovers its new secret weapon: culture

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With industry in decline and high streets dominated by Far Eastern imports, Europe has discovered a secret economic weapon: culture.

The arts and creative industries now earn more than double the cash produced by European car-makers and contribute more to the economy than the chemical industry, property or the food and drink business.

An independent study commissioned by the European Commission has underlined the changing way in which Europeans earn their living. Throughout the Continent people are now much more likely to work in sectors such as television, fashion or other "niche" jobs than in a car assembly plant.

The sector employs no fewer than 5.8 million people, more than the working population of Greece and Ireland together. While jobs disappeared overall in the EU between 2002-04, they actually rose by 1.85 per cent in the culture and creative sectors.

And creative workers tend to be better educated and more flexible than others. Almost half have a university degree, as opposed to about one-quarter of the overall working population, and the sector has twice the standard rate of self-employed people.

Jan Figel, the European commissioner for education, training, culture and multilingualism, said: "This study confirms that the arts and culture are far from being marginal in terms of their economic contribution. The culture sector is the engine of creativity, and creativity is the basis for social and economic innovation."

The study draws on a broad definition of the cultural sector, beyond traditional areas such as cinema, music and publishing. The written press, radio and television, and creative sectors such as fashion and interior and product design, cultural tourism, the performing arts, visual arts, and heritage, were included.