Social security while mobile: "Social Security of Visual Artists in Europe". Requirements of visual artists working across borders.

A project by IGBK in cooperation with the European Commission Representation in Germany on 16 and 17 November 2010 in Berlin.

In December 2009 the Internationale Gesellschaft der Bildenden Künste (IGBK) organized a panel of experts in Linz who addressed the mobility of visual artists in Europe, discussing existing barriers to mobility and the question of how cross border work may be simplified for visual artists. The discussions were divided into four thematic blocks: taxation and customs, visa regulations, information and advisory services, and supporting schemes. The IGBK introduced at the EU level the resulting list of recommendations into the OMC (open method of coordination) work group regarding mobility of artists and cultural professionals. In its final report in June 2010, the OMC work group emphasized that the issue of coordination of social legislation needs to be increasingly addressed in the future.

The expert workshop in Berlin

Because of its complexity, the issue of social security had been deliberately excluded from the event in Linz. The "Social Security of Visual Artists in Europe" expert workshop explicitly devoted itself to the subject (Programme PDF). In cooperation with the European Commission representation in Berlin, the IGBK hosted the workshop on November 16 and 17, 2010. The event focused on social security in Europe as well as the coordination of existing European legislations and social insurance systems. Representatives of the European Commission, artists’ associations, ministries, and social security institutions from eight European countries were invited to Berlin. The workshop was chaired by Richard Polácek (Practics/On the Move). In light of the experiences of visual artists themselves, the transparency and practicality of the EU provision and resulting regulations were of particular interest.

The exchange focused on the following questions:

  • How is the flow of information organized concerning the possibilities of social security and existing EU regulations for visual artists in various countries?
  • Does an effective information policy exist?
  • Have the current EU regulations and recent changes been sufficiently implemented?
  • Are they sufficiently known and do they meet the requirements of the artists at all?

Representing the European Commission, Vit Holubec (Directorate Generalfor Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, Department of Coordination of Social Security Systems and Free Movement of Workers) and Anna Geukens (Directorate General for Education and Culture, Department of Culture Policy, Diversity and Intercultural Dialog) presented the modernized coordination practices of social security in the EU as well as the strategies and key aspects developed in the context of the European agenda for culture.

The discussion among representatives of artists’ associations, national ministries, and social security institutions which followed the presentations of Holubec and Geukens revealed a certain discrepancy between theory and practice and between current legal provisions and their lack of implementation. For example, when a French artist seeks medical assistance while working in Germany his European health insurance card may not be accepted at a doctor’s office despite EU requirements.

Since May 2010 a modernized system of coordination has applied to all EU citizens who are members of a state health insurance, independent of their employment status, ostensibly rendering guaranteed unobstructed freedom of movement within the European Union. The new system of coordination is supposed to improve the collaboration between the still very differently organized social security institutions in Europe. This includes the gradual introduction of a system for electronic data exchange. The most important innovation in terms of the mobility of cultural workers is that, whether self-deployed or dispatched by an employer, artists can work in another EU country for up to 24 months while maintaining their respective national insurance coverage.

Customized information for Europe-wide mobility

During the Berlin expert workshop, it became clear that lack of information regarding social security issues poses an obstacle to the mobility of visual artists.
Many artists are not sufficiently familiar with the EU regulations and the functioning of the coordination processes. Existing online information sites are usually too general to be really helpful. Therefore, national websites and information systems are required which present the EU regulations in a manner specifically tailored to the needs of artists.

Artists’ associations are also often not sufficiently informed about EU regulations and not sensitized to the accompanying issues. This means that in the web of EU regulations and their national implementations, the artists’ organizations are not (yet) satisfactorily fulfilling their role as mediators between artists and authorities/institutions such as health insurance companies. Likewise, the identified lack of information applies to national authorities and social security institutions concerned with the implementation of the regulations. They must be reliably and effectively supplied with all essential information about the innovations and with instructions for the implementation of the provisions into national law. As early as 2009, trESS (network for training and reporting on European Social Security) asserted in a report that the dissemination of information is one of the most critical challenges. The information, seminars and consulting services devoted to European social security coordination offered free of charge by the trESS network are helpful to the institutions concerned with this issue at a national level.

Enabling cultural diversity

Mobility, international exchange, cross-border support of artists: the offers that have always proven useful in this context are those which are practically and precisely targeted to the requirements of artists, such as the EU-funded "practics" advisory bodies providing customized support to mobile artists and cultural workers. The further support and Europe-wide expansion of these facilities (four so far in Wales, Spain, Belgium, and the Netherlands) are therefore useful and desirable.

The "artist mobility" online handbook of the IGBK and the German National Committee of the International Theatre Institute funded by the German Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and Media which will be completed by the end of 2012 should also be mentioned in this context. The offer will initially provide practical information to mobile visual and performing artists about taxation, visas, funding, and social security. The target group is not only internationally active artists living in Germany but also foreign artists who want to produce and collaborate in Germany.

In the context of the Berlin expert workshop, the services of the Austrian Social Insurance Institution for Trade and Industry (SVA) starting in 2011 are also worth mentioning. These offers for artists relate to all matters of social security. The career centers established by some European universities and the collaboration of the universities with the social insurance institutions also play important roles in the mobility of artists.

Practical information and consultation are crucial issues but not sufficient if the European Union is perceived as a "learning community" It is also important to systematically identify the obstacles and existing best practice examples and to use the insights to encourage cross-border cultural and artistic diversity in Europe. The systematic data collections are also central to political argumentation. This monitoring is an important basis for artists’ organizations such as the IGBK for representing the interests of their members with vigor and specialist expertise.

Artists’ social legislation and coordination

The contributions by Carroll Haak (Empirical analyses and methods / German pension insurance fund) and (trESS network / Max-Planck Institute for Foreign and International Social Law, Munich) are concerned with artists’ social legislation in selected European countries as well as with the framework conditions and the practice of coordination.

In her study, Carroll Haak outlines the basic principles of social insurance coordination in Europe, the principle of (self-)secondment which also applies to visual artists, and the simplified administrative action of the EU. Central to her contribution are the special schemes of social security for artists in Europe. The German, French, Dutch, Austrian, and Croatian systems are described in detail.

In his presentation on "Law and Practice of European Social Security Coordination", Bernd Schulte, the national trESS expert for the Federal Republic of Germany, focuses on the principle of free movement of workers in the EU, the available expertise in the field of social legislation, and the existing EU coordination directives and their implementation.


The publication presented by the IGBK contains extended versions of conference papers by Carroll Haak and Bernd Schulte. The publication is available in English and German language. For orders free of charge please get in touch.