Mariya Gabriel on Europe’s New Bauhaus

Why is a new European initiative drawing inspiration from a century-old German art school movement?


Gérard Pogorel is professor emeritus of Economics, Telecom Paris Graduate School of Engineering, CNRS Interdisciplinary Institute for Innovation and an independent international expert in telecommunications, media and the digital economy. He is an expert with the European Commission, and was chair of the European Union Framework Research & Technology Development Programme Monitoring Panel, and chair of the monitoring committee of the EU Information Society and Technologies Research Programme. He speaks to Commissioner Mariya Gabriel.

Your portfolio covers innovation, research, culture, education and youth. How would you describe the synergies between these different areas? 

It is true that my portfolio covers a wide range of areas: from research to the promotion of our cultures, from innovation to education and sport for all, and of course to our European youth. Every aspect of my portfolio contributes to making the EU stronger, more resilient and competitive, but also closer to European citizens. It includes many wonderful flagship programmes like Erasmus+, supporting education, training, youth and sport in Europe, as well as Horizon Europe, the EU’s most ambitious funding programme for research and innovation. 

The areas and programmes under my responsibility embody both the talent and heart of Europe. Taken together, they can have a real positive impact on the daily lives of citizens. Since the beginning of the mandate, with my team, we are working for a true European Education Area, a renewed European Research Area, an innovative and modern digital education that leaves no one behind, and a stimulating environment in which the cultural and creative sectors can thrive. So, our focus is on developing the synergies that exist between them.

One major asset of having this portfolio is that it brings the policies of the ‘knowledge triangle’ – education, research and innovation – under one portfolio for the first time, and links them to the services for society and benefits for European citizens. This helps us to foster synergies and to make the best investments in our future: through our young people, our innovators and our researchers. Getting this right is key for our competitiveness to lead in the transition to a climate-neutral economy and new digital age. 

It is also important to note that the challenges we face today are so complex and multifaceted that we will only be successful in rethinking our future if we adopt a holistic view across disciplines. 

More broadly, we need to equip people with the knowledge, life experience, and skills they need to thrive. Our world-leading science, research, and innovation capacity can help us find European solutions to the most pressing global issues. By cooperating across languages, borders, and disciplines, we can collectively address the societal challenges and skills shortages that currently exist. 

How does your experience as European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society (2017-19) enrich the way you approach your current role?

The policies of my current portfolio build on experiences gained in my previous mandate as Commissioner responsible for Digital Economy and Society. With the new portfolio, the challenge is to ensure that EU policies on education, research, and innovation respond to the rapidly changing digital landscape and take a leading role in harnessing its opportunities. 

In 2018, we put forward a number of proposals. All of them are now part of the ‘added value’ of our EU approach to these issues. Let me give an example with the Digital Education Action Plan. It has already been a success – for 2.5 years, more than 37.5 million of people have benefitted through its actions, for instance the EU Code Week, the Safer Internet Campaign, as well as the Digital Education Hackaton. 

Over the past decades, our education and training systems have been increasingly affected by the digital transformation. In 2019, as many as 43% of the EU adult population had low levels of digital education, and 17% were lacking any digital skills, which put them at serious risk of exclusion. Furthermore, the crisis provided an immense learning experience and accelerated the change, but we were not caught completely off guard – we were already preparing to update our education and training systems for the 21st century. Last year, we presented the new Digital Education Action Plan for the years 2021-2017, in response to the challenges of both the COVID-19 crisis and digital transformation. It aims to develop a high-performing digital education ecosystem and boost digital skills and competences. 

Integrating and mainstreaming a gender perspective in policies has been, and will remain, a priority of my political action. Women are particularly underrepresented in the digital sectors, making up on average across the EU only 17% of tech-sector jobs. During my previous term, we developed and promoted a ‘Women in digital’ strategy, bringing together actions to combat digital gender stereotypes and promote role models. We are now continuing this work by putting forward a series of workshops, training, and placement activities for girls and women in formal education, which will boost digital skills applied to societal challenges. We are also supporting the development of new higher education programmes for STEM, including guidance and mentorship to make them more attractive for women.

As regards the culture and creative sectors, the digital economy and society supports the development of these sectors and of the creative industries. It also supports a successful European media and content industry. My initiative during the previous mandate  #Digital4Culture became the Commission’s strategy, using the digital potential to empower the positive economic and societal effects of culture. Best practices in AI and digitalisation for the accessibility of cultural content need to be shared among the European cultural networks. That is why, we have been mobilising all possible resources for a sector that is so intertwined with European identity, cohesion, and sustainability. For the first time ever, our new framework programme for research and innovations „Horizon Europe“ has a special cluster focused on culture and creativity. We are preparing also a new Knowledge and Innovation Community (KIC) within the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), dedicated on cultural and creative industries.

You play a role in various projects aiming to help deliver the European Green Deal. What will success look like for the New European Bauhaus initiative?

The European Green Deal looks beyond the current policy and investment cycle, with the overarching goal of becoming climate neutral by 2050. It is our motor and compass to ensure Europe’s recovery from COVID-19, building a greener, fairer and more resilient society.

But for the Green Deal to become a success, we need to turn it into a cultural project involving all our citizens and our societies. The New European Bauhaus will be crucial in this regard, by being a cultural, environmental and economic project, it will be a driving force to bring the European Green Deal to life in an tangible, attractive, innovative and human-centered way bringing it into our living spaces.

Both the Green Deal and the New European Bauhaus seek to closely involve citizens. Without their active participation and support, the major transitions will not work. The New European Bauhaus and the Green Deal are thus truly complementary and well placed to address today’s pressing challenges.

Everyone should be able to feel, see and experience the green and digital transformation and the way it enhances our quality of life. This is also true for the New European Bauhaus. Beautiful and sustainable solutions have to become accessible and affordable for all. 

We want to bring this approach into daily lives of European citizens, making everyone experience the benefits of changing the way we live and re-establishing the balance between nature and our living spaces. So both the European Green Deal and the New European Bauhaus seek to closely involve citizens. Without their active participation and support, the major transitions will not work.

So, I do think that the New European Bauhaus can act as a platform to bring the Green Deal into our daily lives, shaping how we live and interact together, and ultimately helping to construct a sustainable, inclusive and beautiful Europe.

Naming this project after the modernist art school Bauhaus implies that it has modernist, rationalist, international and perhaps cosmopolitan roots.

What do you admire about the original Bauhaus movement and what inspiration will you take from it? How is this initiative different?

The reference to the Bauhaus recognises the 100 years old movement that transformed attitudes towards aesthetics and design, insisting on breaking down class barriers between artisans and artists, and fusing craft traditions with modern technology. The word Bauhaus visually defined an entire era: modernism. Simple and always functional, it stood aesthetically for a century of industrialization and urbanization. The name is an invitation to recognise that art and culture can be a powerful trigger of transformation. 

The original Bauhaus was also a place of strong debates. We aim at collectively identifying the common challenges that are the most pressing ones for our societies. We want to elaborate ad-hoc plans for action in a co-design process involving regional and local authorities, as well as citizens, taking into account the richness of our diversity when developing ad-hoc solutions.

Central to the original Bauhaus was also the idea that there should be no borders between artists and craftspeople. Important painters and art theorists such as Paul Klee, Kandinsky and Itten were teaching at the Bauhaus and contributed to the idea of a “Gesamtkunstwerk”, the importance of uniting different disciplines to work together. This is exactly what we have done with the co-design phase of the New European Bauhaus.

The Bauhaus was different because it was much more about harmony, “form follows function” and with the New European Bauhaus, we want “form to follow planet”.

The New European Bauhaus aims to be a European movement, co-designed with European citizens, to tackle our current societal challenges. This initiative connects the European Green Deal to our living spaces. It calls on all Europeans to imagine and build together a sustainable and inclusive future that is beautiful for our eyes, minds, and souls.

First, the New European Bauhaus is based on interdisciplinarity, linking diverse groups – artists, architects, engineers, and designers – to develop joint practices that allow to broaden the usual practices of each separate professional field, thereby overcoming our unconscious limitations. 

Second, culture is not seen as a stand-alone sector, but as one that is capable of contributing to other areas of knowledge, such as demography, mobility, sustainability, artificial intelligence, construction, and so on.

Finally, the third innovative element of the Bauhaus – its very specific design, based on bottom-up participation – should enable us to identify further areas that can contribute to accelerate the ecological transition towards sustainability, aesthetics and affordability. 

Open to all, looking to harvest the most daring ideas, the Bauhaus encourages us to think out of the box and actively involve citizens, thinkers, students, musicians, architects, poets, scientists, artists, designers and the wider cultural sector, willing to join hands in building a better future for Europe.

What sort of challenges do you expect to encounter in scaling up the designs and ideas championed by this initiative?

Delivering on the New European Bauhaus means reaching local places, at regional, neighbourhood or village level. People need to see that the green transformation can contribute to improving our lives, to rekindling relationships – with nature, with our planet, with each other – and to building new ones.

The initiative must also be tuned into local needs since we are very conscious that changes in the climate affect environment, ecosystems, the economy and societal models in a variety of ways. This requires rethinking and redesign. The transformations need to be tangible. Not just of buildings, but of places and the use of spaces, of businesses and products. It calls for a specific mind-set and culture.

This is obviously a big challenge. That’s why the New European Bauhaus will act as an accelerator, a hub for global networks, bringing together artists, designers, architects and engineers, and, above all, all citizens who want to participate. We want to do it all together, by creating a community that will be moving in the same direction and with the same purpose. This does not mean, however, that everyone will be doing the same thing, but rather that we will share the same common principles while valorising our cultural heritage and diversity, adapting to the local conditions.

There are already many concrete examples from real life that embody the values of the initiative. In fact, over the past few months we have realised that we have many amazing projects, examples of sustainable spaces and bright ideas for inclusive and sustainable ways of living.

In April, we launched the very first competition for New European Bauhaus prizes to showcase such great examples and ideas. We received an incredible number of 2,529 applications, including 905 for the “NEB Rising Stars” category exclusively open to young people. So, we know that the ideas are there to make this initiative a success. Building on the inspirational ideas collected over the first half of the year, this autumn we will have several new actions to keep the momentum alive.

Based on the outcomes of the co-design phase, we will present this autumn our concept on the implementation of the New European Bauhaus. The delivery phase will build on the dynamics generated during the design phase to further deepen the work with the New European Bauhaus Community. Such continuation of a participatory approach is essential for the new movement to grow and to constantly improve.

We will also identify how EU programmes can support this delivery phase. Within the Horizon Europe programme we will publish a call for proposals this autumn with a budget of EUR 25 million for creation of 5 New European Bauhaus pilot projects. And, they will be tailored to the local context – setting up in urban areas, in rural areas, in coastal areas, and others. The pilot projects will become lighthouse demonstrators. They will be a valuable learning experience that future rounds of pilots can learn from.

Horizon Europe missions will also contribute to the initiative because the missions, particularly those on ‘climate neutral cities’ and on ‘climate adaptation’ share many key characteristics with the New European Bauhaus. Besides Missions, we can also look into other opportunities for synergies in Horizon Europe clusters, as well as with the European Institute of Innovation and Technology and the European Innovation Council. 

And, when it comes to changing mind-sets, the widespread engagement of the educational and cultural sectors will be crucial to spread the positive and human-centred messages of the New European Bauhaus.

Finally, we need to reinforce synergies between the EU programmes and with local, regional, national initiatives to ensure the materialisation of the concept on the ground. We have adopted the Joint Action Plan with the Committee of the Regions last October. It will serve as an instrument to build effective synergies and link networks of cities, using best practices from our European Capitals of Culture and Innovation, reflecting the New European Bauhaus values.

We strive to create an enabling framework for the New European Bauhaus. Because, the New European Bauhaus is our way of doing sustainability, in style. Of making our houses, our regions and cities, our lives, not just greener, but more beautiful, more practical and more inclusive.

And for that to happen, we need everyone’s participation because the ultimate goal is to accompany a change in the mind-set, focusing on positive experiences, sharing of what works, while adapting to the specificities of local contexts.

I would like to invite also your readers to join us in our efforts to inspire local communities in our goal to create a more humane and sustainable future.

Do you consider sustainable solutions and technology as less accessible to countries with a lower per capita income, or is it possible for them to leapfrog unsustainable solutions? 

Back in 1950, Robert Schuman said that Europe would be “built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity”. For the founding fathers, this vision of unity had to start with pragmatic solutions to rebuild Europe and give hope to people after the First and Second World War. The New European Bauhaus is the most recent example of such an ambitious European project, which also wants to bring new hope and better way of life to all our citizens across Europe. 

Another example is the Recovery and Resilience Facility, which aims at supporting the sustainable and resilient recovery towards the green and digital transformations. The National Recovery Plans can focus on concrete achievements, involving citizens, social and economic actors to foster local transformations changing the way we live and the places where we live.

At the core of the National Recovery Plans lie innovation and education as key enablers for a sustainable transition. Indeed, the recovery from the pandemic has to be based on innovation and technology. However, we know that the gap in terms of innovation performance across countries is wider than the gap in terms of GDP per capita or productivity. Therefore, there is a risk that this recovery will widen the disparities across Europe, among Member States and within Member States, in between rural and urban areas.

That is why, in the Commission, we are working on a European Innovation Strategy to focus on ensuring an European economy that works for all. My ambition is to create a true pan European Innovation Ecosystem that follows a bottom up approach. This means to build local innovation ecosystems throughout Europe, including in rural areas, and to connect them one with another. 

These ecosystems approach is essential to ensure that all regions in Europe has access to sustainable technologies for their recoveries. We strive to ensure territorial innovation cohesion throughout Europe. This Commission’s ambition on ensuring an even recovery based on sustainable solution across Europe is reflected also in the new long term Vision for Rural Areas where one of the flagships is on innovation and startup villages, and another flagship on education. 

I am very much committed that these transformations are led by innovative, forward-looking initiatives. That is why, our new R&I programme Horizon Europe plays an important role to help all regions – not only the less performant ones – to embed innovation in their strategic roadmaps for the green and digital transition.

To name a few, we have tested instruments to align with industry and stakeholders at regional level, like the R&I partnerships and the new Missions under Horizon Europe. There is exciting work ahead to align strategies, investments and, above all, good will.

It also is the right moment to ensure that the integrated values promoted by the New European Bauhaus will be consistently adopted across all of the planned transformations, incorporating cutting-edge innovative solutions for a more sustainable digital decade while valorising the richness of our cultural diversity.

What new instruments are being implemented in the new Horizon Europe programme to tap the recognized talent of European researchers and reinforce the current upward innovative trends in the EU industry?

In the context of Horizon Europe and the first work programmes, the Commission supports several instruments to tap into the talent of European researchers and reinforce upward innovative trends in EU industry.

First of all, the widening component of Horizon Europe includes three instruments to stimulate a balanced circulation of talents across the entire European Research Area (ERA), and in particular to widening countries. The first is the ‘ERA fellowships’, a training and mobility action in 2021 targeted towards postdoctoral researchers intending to move to widening countries. This action is aligned with the Marie Sklodowska Curie Actions (MSCA) Postdoctoral Fellowships. 

Another example is the ‘ERA Talent action’. Still under construction for 2022, this should target a diverse audience of R&I talents, spreading attractive working and employment practices, and promoting inter-sectoral mobility. 

A third example is the already-proven ‘ERA Chairs’ instrument, which enables excellent talents in research and innovation to establish their own research groups within host organisations in countries performing less highly in research and innovation, with contributions for the modernisation of these institutions.

On top of that, the part of the widening programme devoted to strengthening ERA (known as ‘destination 3’) will support the development of an ERA Talent Platform. It is a one-stop-shop portal based on the current ‘EURAXESS’, the pan-European initiative delivering information and support services to professional researchers. The Talent Platform has new and enhanced features to make it more usable and better linked with the needs of the labour market. A second action supports the creation of a true talent pipeline for the ERA, mainstreaming practices for higher education institutions to involve non-academic sectors from the outset, in training & career development of PhD students, and mainstreaming value creation and inter-sectoral mobility schemes within higher education institutions to promote jobs and growth.

There are two points I would like to mention that play a key role in developing and attracting talents in research. One is the promotion of better careers with long term perspectives and the other is the access to world-class infrastructures and instrumentations. We are dedicating strong attention to foster alignment of EU Member States to increase investments and define ambitious agendas on these two points. We are working hard to have an ambitious ERA Pact on R&I that can really make a difference.

How would you illustrate the connections between recovery, resilience and innovation?

Innovation is truly essential for both recovery and resilience. It is now well recognised that novel solutions, products, services and processes are key to economic competitiveness and growth. But innovation is even more important in the current context, when it is clear that European citizens are expecting a different post-pandemic growth model, more sustainable from an ecological point of view and more responsive to human needs, such as health and welfare. This new growth model also needs to be more inclusive, notably by tapping into the entire talent base of Europe, such as, for instance, female innovators and entrepreneurs. In line with European citizens’ expectations, the European Commission aims to transform the coronavirus challenge into a genuine opportunity for building back better.

We have placed our values at the core of our policies, programmes and instruments. This is evident in the architecture of the EU’s recovery package, Next Generation EU, and especially so in its centrepiece, the Recovery and Resilience Facility. Through its massive public investment and support for reforms, the Recovery and Resilience Facility is a once in a generation opportunity for deep structural transformation within our Member States. In order to receive a positive assessment from the Commission, each Recovery and Resilience Plan submitted by the Member States should include a minimum of 37% of its funds dedicated to climate-related investments and a minimum of 20% to support for the digital area. 

The role of innovation in this context is central, as it is a key enabler and accelerator of both the green and digital transitions. These twin transitions can only materialise if our research and innovation ecosystems are strong and competitive enough within all their dimensions (e.g. research and science base, human resources, knowledge flows and collaborative links, access to finance for innovative companies). 

The new wave of innovation around deep tech startups, beyond digital startups, has the potential to bring us the solutions needed for a sustainable recovery and, at the same time, increasing the competitiveness of Europe at global level. Europe has the potential to become the leader of this new wave of innovation due to our strengths on science and on hardware-related industries. 

We need to build a pan-European Innovation Ecosystem that will facilitate the start and growth of this new generation of innovators and startups by creating the right connections with our traditional industry and our best scientists. The National Recovery Plans will play an essential role to ensure that no region is left behind within this pan-European innovation Ecosystem.

Looking at the recovery and resilience plans assessed by the Commission so far, I am very happy that Member States have generally seized the transformative opportunities provided by the Recovery and Resilience Facility. Many plans include research and innovation actions focused, for instance, on hydrogen and renewables, carbon capture and storage, smart mobility, bioeconomy, circular economy, startups, as well as investments in supercomputers, quantum communication infrastructure, breakthrough and key digital technologies, robotisation. 

Our recovery will be resilient if it is fuelled by innovation that addresses the needs of our planet, societies and economies in an integrative way. That way we can pave the way to be better prepared for future systemic shocks and disruptions.

In what way will culture and media be important for the future of the EU?

Culture and the creative sectors are the soul of Europe, but also have extraordinary potential for the development of our regions, providing quality jobs. They are instrumental in promoting European values, in contributing to raising awareness of global challenges, and in assuring community cohesion and civic engagement. They are also an important source of economic growth and jobs, contributing 4.5% of EU GDP and employing, directly or indirectly, more than 8 million Europeans. 

Every societal evolution has been accompanied by cultural and art movements. And Europe is on its way to a green and digital transformation. The New European Bauhaus embodies this alliance between culture and industry, one that has the potential to accompany each and every person in their daily life. 

Culture and media have also been our daily companions throughout lockdowns and the pandemic anxiety. At the same time, the pandemic has become a huge challenge for the sectors. We, the Commission, stand fully by their side, using every means at our disposal to support the recovery of the sector and increase its competitiveness to become greener, more digital and more inclusive. 

Last month, we issued EU guidelines on the safe resumption of cultural activities in Europe, in a health context that remains uncertain due to variants and varying rates of vaccination. It is important to follow a coordinated approach at EU level while taking into account regional and national specificities. The guidelines also look into the sectors’ recovery. Access to funding remains key. And here comes the support of our programmes, being important levers towards the growth of the sectors – and of European economies more broadly. Because the resilience, cohesion and innovative potential of European societies are strongly linked to our cultural heritage, the arts and the cultural and creative industries.

First, we have provided €2.5 billion of financial support through the new Creative Europe programme, which represents a 63% increase compared to the previous programme. Calls are open and I invite all interested to apply. 

Second, Horizon Europe – our research and innovation programme, for the first time in the history of the programme dedicates close to €2 billion for а cluster on Culture, Creativity and Inclusive Society. With the project activities under this cluster we aim at integrating the cultural and creative industries into the European industrial policy as drivers for innovation and growth. Now we have to fulfil it with adequate content. And, I count on the cultural and creative sectors to help us do it.

Third, the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) is launching a new Knowledge and Innovation Community (KIC) on Cultural and Creative Sectors and Industries. This new community will train the sector’s future entrepreneurs, power its cutting-edge ventures, and deliver innovative solutions to the challenges facing the sectors. 

Fourth, our iconic Erasmus+ programme will pay particular attention to education and skills, involving our youth, also for cultural and creative sectors.

Last but not least, as I mentioned earlier, our New European Bauhaus initiative aims to translate the European Green Deal into a tangible, positive experience in which all citizens can participate and progress together.

Furthermore, the culture sector will also benefit from Recovery and Resilience facility through the national recovery plans, dedicating a total budget of EUR 9 billion to culture and creativity. 

In autumn, we will launch an online guide to help the sectors explore all EU funding opportunities. This will help our artists, creators, cultural professionals to use the full potential of the available funding instruments smartly through creating synergies between the programmes and initiatives.

We need also to work on mechanisms to enhance collaboration amongst networks, media hubs and creative media clusters. Our ambition is to lay the foundations for a European innovation ecosystem based on culture and creativity. That is why we envisage the creation of a collaborative platform for the cultural and creative sectors under Horizon Europe programme. 

Allow me to conclude by underlining that accessibility, inclusion and media literacy are also paramount to the success of the European Media and Cultural and Creative sectors. We must work on enhancing media literacy and strengthening skills. In this respect, not only users of media need to become more media literate but also the skills of professionals in the field need to be adapted to face current and future challenges. 

Finally, as result of our intensive work during a year and a half, we managed to ensure the strongest budget in support of the culture, creativity and media. Now we have a number of new funding instruments available. Through the new EIT KIC and synergies between our programmes and initiatives, we strive to unite cultural and creative organisations in a pan-European innovation ecosystem and to deliver innovative solutions to help the sectors and industries become stronger and more resilient, perceiving Europe as their own home.  Our ambition is to harness the power of these sectors to support Europe’s cultural leadership. 

15th October 2021