What the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU means for artists and orchestras

Mark Pemberton, director of the Association of British Orchestras for almost a decade, writes for IAM on what the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU means for artists and orchestras

Our grounds for supporting the Remain campaign were that the ABO has close insight into the workings of the EU through its membership of Pearle (Live Performance Europe), the federation of performing arts associations across Europe.

This gives us access to the *Social dialogue process, bringing together the associations and the unions and enabling us to monitor and influence the development of regulations and champion a better deal for the performing arts at a European level.

Social dialogue is only accessible to members of the EU.

_DSC5618Our colleagues in Norway have told us of their frustration at being excluded from influence over the content of regulations, which they are obliged to implement to gain access to the single market. [*The European social dialogue refers to discussions, consultations, negotiations and joint actions involving organisations representing employers and workers, read more here.]

One of the big myths about the EU is that unelected bureaucrats impose red tape on British companies, overriding our sovereign parliament.

This is to misunderstand how the EU works. Regulations are proposed by the European Commission (just as our civil service drafts legislation).

This is then put to the European Parliament where our elected representatives scrutinise, amend and approve the legislative framework. It then goes to the Council of Ministers – the ministers of each sovereign parliament in the particular legislative area – for final approval. Only then does it become a directive for implementation in national law.

And what is overlooked is how many of the regulations generated by this process are to do with enshrining the rights of workers and consumers. Here are some examples from our sector:

  • National governments are particularly keen to sell off radio spectrum to the highest bidder, such as mobile phone companies. The EU is working to protect users of wireless microphones to enable live events to take place on stable frequencies on a pan-European basis. It is very difficult for the creative industries sector, predominantly made up, as it is of SMEs, to lobby national governments as effectively as the big mobile phone companies, and we value the muscle that the EU brings.

The European Parliament has approved the new Passenger Rights Directive, which contains a provision for the carrying of musical instruments on planes that would bring European regulations into line with those of the USA.

This provision is being blocked by the UK and German governments at the level of the Council of Ministers, on the grounds that this is unnecessary interference in the market.

In other words, national governments still have the final say, and in this case are overriding the will of the European Parliament.

The major piece of EU legislation that affects our sector are the Noise at Work Regulations. However, through the Social dialogue process we were able to get an extension for the entertainment sector, and it is in all our interests that the orchestral workforce is subject to a common set of thresholds that aim to minimise the risk of noise damage.

The biggest area of red tape that impedes our members’ businesses, and is a barrier to the freedom of movement, are withholding taxes.

Article 17 of the OECD Model Tax Convention requires that Artists and Sportspersons be subject to withholding tax, unlike other types of workers working temporarily in another country.

This makes no distinction between Madonna or Beyoncé, and an orchestral musician receiving a modest concert fee. But this has nothing to do with the EU.

Tax treaties remain a matter for sovereign governments. If anything, we would like to see greater harmonisation at European level, and a fairer deal in the tax treatment of artists and musicians.

Orchestral music transcends borders, and British orchestras benefit from the free movement of musicians to enable us to attract the finest talent. This is particularly vital at a time of reduced public investment, when we need every tool at our disposal to remain competitive in a global market.

The extension of the points-based system to migrant workers from the EU will tie our sector up in ‘red tape’ imposed by the UK government on the recruitment of orchestral musicians and engagement of conductors and soloists from the European market. It poses a very real danger of making us an unattractive place to work, lower the quality of the workforce, and potentially make orchestras, opera and ballet companies in the UK financially unsustainable.