European Parliament Directorate-General for Research

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European Parliament

Directorate-General for Research

Working Paper

The situation of the circus

in the EU Member States

Education and Culture Series


European Parliament

Directorate-General for Research

Working Paper

The situation of the circus

in the EU Member States

Education and Culture Series


08 - 2003

This study was requested by the European Parliament's Committee on Culture, Youth, Education, the Media and Sport.

This document is published in EN (original), DE, FR.

Editors: Division for Social and Legal Affairs

Directorate General for Research, European Parliament

The authors' names appear at the beginning of each contribution.

Responsible official: Pernille Winther, Principal Administrator
Division for Social and Legal Affairs
Tel.: (00352) 4300 22688
Fax: (00352) 4300 27720

Manuscript completed on 15 March 2003.

Paper copies can be obtained through: Publications service

Tel.: (352) 4300-24053/20347

Fax: (352) 4300-27722


Further information on DG4 publications can be accessed through:

Luxembourg, European Parliament, 2003

The opinions expressed in this document are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the European Parliament.

Reproduction and translation for non-commercial purposes are authorised, provided the source is acknowledged and the publisher is given prior notice and sent a copy.


Foreword 5

Comparative Summary 7

1. History and status of circuses in Europe 7

2. Legislation on circuses 8

3. Financial support and subsidies 9

4. Circus artists and workers 10

5. Health and safety 10

6. Circus schools 11

7. Education of the children of circus families 12

8. Copyright 13

9. Animals 14

10. EU initiatives and free movement 14

11. Networks and festivals 15

I. Situation of circus in the Member States of the European Union 17

Belgium - French Community 19

Belgium - Flemish Community 23

Denmark 29

Germany 35

Spain 45

France 59

Ireland 73

Italy 79

Luxembourg 95

The Netherlands 99

Austria 103

Portugal 109

Finland 112

Sweden 118

United Kingdom 123

II. European Union Intitiatives 141

1. Free movement of circuses and artists within the European Union 143

2. Social security regulations 148

3. Education of circus family children 149

III. European co-operation: networks and festivals 157




Bibliography 175


In March 2002, the Committee on Culture, Youth, Education, the Media and Sport of the European Parliament asked the Directorate-General for Research (DG IV) to draft a report on the situation of the circus and circus artists in the European Union (EU) Member States with the aim of facilitating a better understanding of the situation of the circus in the EU from different perspectives: circus as a business, circus as an art form and circus as a family and way of life.

The paper is divided into three parts. Part I analyses the situation in each country, as far as data was available, with regard to the following questions:

a) History and current situation;

b) Legislation on circus businesses;

c) Financial subsidies;

d) Vocational training in circus arts;

e) Legislation on circus artists and workers, working conditions, and health and safety issues;

f) Social security regulations;

g) Pre-school, primary and secondary education for the children from circus families;

h) Current debates or future plans.

Part II focuses on EU initiatives on three important factors for circuses in the EU: free movement of circuses and artists, social security co-ordination and the education of children from circus families. Part III describes European co-operation and the networks within the circus sector.

The study has been conducted with the collaboration of EFECOT, the European Circus Association, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work in Bilbao as well as organisations, associations, circuses, artists and official bodies related to circuses in the following EU Member States: Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Spain, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, Finland, Sweden, and United Kingdom. We regret that for technical reasons it was not possible to include Greece.

Comparative Summary

1. History and status of circuses in Europe

The International Association of Circus Historians defines the term ‘circus’ as ‘the meeting point between an organised artistic programme and a musical company, with acts of acrobats, clowns and tamers of wild and domestic animal performing inside an oval-shaped esplanade’ (Schulz, 1988). In more general terms it can also be defined as ‘a travelling company, which performs a versatile artistic programme inside a large ring-like tent or building’ (Scientific Council, Duden editorship, Duden 1997).

For centuries the enchantment of the circus has captivated audiences around the world. For example, the Ancient Egyptians paraded exotic animals through the streets, Romans used their amphitheatres to stage games not unlike some of today's performances. Throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, jugglers and acrobats amazed crowds with feats performed on church steps or in public markets.

The circus as we know it today dates back to about 1770 when Philip Astley, an English sergeant and riding instructor, set up a small arena near Waterloo Station in London. Astley presented a variety of acts including horseback riders, tightrope walkers, jumpers, acrobats, jugglers and clowns. Over the next 50 years other people imitated Astley's example and circuses sprang up all over Europe. Antonio Franconi, a Venetian who had worked with Astley, opened the first French circus in Lyon on the eve of the French Revolution. The circus continued to expand throughout the l9th century in Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Italy, Sweden and was to have its moments of glory in France with, for example, the Cirque Médrano or Cirque d'Hiver.

The early 20th century in Europe brought with it not just the circus tent but also 'technical' innovations such as sawdust, and tents with several rings, together with new, different kinds of circus performances, such as dressage and acts featuring exotic animals. The traditional kind of dressage and equestrian acts tended to give way to acrobatics, now treated as a separate discipline. These acrobatic feats became the 'sensations' that were essential to any circus programme, especially in the years following the First World War. During the 20th century the circus encountered many difficulties in Europe since the World Wars had dispersed many circus companies. Despite a comeback in the 1950's, the circus had to face competition from cinema, television, amusement parks and other forms of entertainment, and suffered a decline in public interest. Within this context, the circus became identified with children’s entertainment, and was not recognised as an art form.

However, the circus has survived. Circus families have managed to pass on their skills from one generation to the next. At the same time, in the last twenty-five years, new forms of circus which are enjoying great success have been appearing, and public interest has increased. There is a new perspective to the circus, that of taking skills into different areas of artistic expression. Contemporary circus or, as it is known colloquially, “new circus”, differs from the traditional circus in certain respects. Animals are not used, and there has been a move away from the circus being a family-business. Instead, there is now a more artistic approach to performances and collaboration with other arts, such as drama, theatre and dance. This “new circus” has attracted new audiences and other groups of people who had never visited the circus before. This phenomenon is raising further interesting points about the role of the circus in the contemporary arts environment and reclaiming circus “for its own sake – an art form in its own right” (Matt Costain, 2001)1. As a result, the circus is receiving more recognition as a cultural art form within some EU Member States, and the demand for education and vocational training in the circus arts has increased. Some countries in the EU focus on the “new circus” (France) whilst others try to preserve the “traditional circus” (Denmark and Belgium), but in most of Member States both forms co-exist. “Re-inventing circus should not mean rejecting tradition as we could lose out on a wealth of talent” (David Hibling, 2001)2.

Within Europe, France is considered to be one of the main countries for circuses and a model for the other European countries. In France, all forms of the circus co-exist, public support for new and traditional circus arts is very strong, and there is also a national circus school.

It is difficult to give exact figures on the number of circuses and artists in Europe. It is estimated that there are between 600 and 10003 circuses in the EU, but the figures differ considerably from one country to the next and also from year to year. The highest number of circuses can be found in Germany, with around 450, next comes France with 300, Italy with 150 and the United Kingdom with 45. Spain has around 30 circuses, Sweden 20, the Netherlands 13, Denmark 20, Ireland 4 and Finland 3. These figures are only approximate. Due to their high mobility and lack of organised, representational structures, it is difficult to provide a more precise figure. An additional difficulty is down to the lack of a clear definition of “circus”. The term “circus” encompasses “an enormous range of activities” (Dorothy Max, Circus Arts Forum), especially with the development of the "new circus" within the last twenty years. It includes large and small-scale circuses, and touring circuses, not all of whom possess a tent – i.e. festival circuses, street circuses, circuses performing at corporate events, community circuses, youth circuses, children's circuses, training centres, circus schools, etc.

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