South-East Europe successful in integrating culture in sustainable development initiatives

Culture is not only a sector of activity in itself, but also a transversal, intrinsic component across the public policy spectrum, acting as an enabler to accelerate sustainable development processes. While culture does not have a dedicated sustainable development goal in the 2030 Agenda, it is reflected across many of the goals and targets including those on sustainable cities, decent work, reduced inequalities, climate action, gender equality, innovation, and peaceful and inclusive societies.
The study of the Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) and how Member States integrate culture into their sustainable development initiatives is key for the Cultural Policies and Development entity as it establishes a general framework to understand the positioning of culture in the Sustainable Development Agenda. Between 2016 and 2020, 205 Voluntary National Reviews were submitted from 169 countries. Overall, 60% of the Voluntary National Reviews submitted made explicit references to culture highlighting the growing recognition of the transversal role of culture for sustainable development.

Countries in South-East Europe have been very successful in integrating culture across the broad public policy spectrum measuring progress in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, as elaborated in their Voluntary National Reviews. Some of the trends observed in the reports submitted by South-East Europe are here presented.

Policies and strategies mentioned covered various dimensions of culture.

Yet, again, the most commonly cited dimension was cultural heritage. The Ministry of Culture of North Macedonia enacted a strategy for the protection and use of cultural and natural heritage through awareness campaigns and educational programmes designed to encourage collective action in preserving heritage.

In sectorial policies and programmes such as Serbia National Youth Strategy, which contributes to arts and culture, youth is commonly cited. In Cyprus, the Ministry of Education and Culture has started reforming the school system to promote the strengthening of culture and supporting of cultural creativity to ensure provision of learning to all youth.

As to cultural and creative industries, Malta provided interesting projects in their Voluntary National Reviews; Malta’s Create 2020 Strategy supports creative professionals with entrepreneurships activities. Serbia and Romania mention the economic contribution of the cultural sector to the national economy discovered through their involvement in the UNESCO Culture for Development Indicators (CDIS).

Greece claims to mainstream culture in all sectoral and regional operational programmes, and Culture and Information has mainstreamed culture in response to several SDGs.

Regarding international dimension to countries’ cultural policies, several countries cited UNESCO normative instruments, with a direct reference to UNESCO Conventions. Croatia recognizes that over 8,000 protected cultural heritage sites, ten of which are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites and 17 examples of intangible cultural heritage inscribed on the UNESCO List, have resulted in large economic benefits by creating innovative services and products with the goal of sustainability, development, employment and social cohesion. Bulgaria and the Republic of Moldova mention intangible cultural heritage related projects, and North Macedonia mentions natural heritage culture-related projects or sites on the World Heritage List.

Cyprus cites cooperation through a permanent regional organization. Under its chairpersonship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (November 2016-May 2017), Cyprus supported the development of the new Council of Europe Convention on Offences relating to Cultural Property. It also set up in 2012 an informal network of Law Enforcement Authorities and Expertise in the Field of Cultural Goods, aiming to tackle the illicit trafficking of cultural goods at a national and European level.


The significance of hosting the European “Capital of Culture” is highlighted by Malta and Serbia. Additionally, Serbia promotes the mobility of artists.

There is significant progress of culture in official development aid strategies. Two countries reported on support received from international funds; Bulgaria has received support from the European-Bulgarian Sustainable Cities Fund for an urban development and cultural heritage initiative, while North Macedonia cites the Green Climate Fund set up by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), which has as concrete priorities forestry and cultural heritage protection, and preservation.