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Prof. Senelle: International Aspects of the Cultural Problem of the European Union

Prof. Senelle started this second part with remarks about the cultural context prevailing in Europe after the Maastricht Treaty had been ratified. Interestingly enough, in his paper about "International Aspects of the Cultural Problem of the European Union", he assumes that now the "European Union stands at the outset of a new phase, that of cultural action in the new European Union itself." He mentioned in his lecture that Maastricht is to be comprehended as a treaty requiring a vital cultural life, in order to become a true starting point of the union of Europe. National debates only hinder, if they do not consider the application of Article 128 with regards to the principle of subsidiarity. Already in April 1992, Senelle sees Community Cultural Actions being undertaken as reflection of and in adaptation of this new environment (space without borders). Such cultural actions serve three purposes:

  1. preserve memory
  2. promote protection of the environment
  3. encourage co-operation with the Third World

All of these three aspects ought to be resolved by the principle of subsidiarity having its anchorage in cultural co-operation. In other words, cultural integration follows upon economic and political integration.
In his short presentation, Senelle emphasised that the aim of the European unity is to preserve cultural diversity. Although he did not say whether this is or ought to be the goal, he underlined this approach with an emphasis upon a further going understanding of this aim, namely to create a European identity. This is done within the context of what people view culture to be used for, namely more as an end of the means to safeguard cultural diversity (Article 128, first paragraph). In this sense, he made direct reference to the initiative undertaken by van den Brande, Minister President of the Government of the Flemish community in Belgium. In this initiative emphasis is being placed upon the co-ordination in cultural matters, in order to reach equality for culturally defined regions of Europe.


For the first time 'cultural actions' as a particular concept was mentioned. What understanding of this concept underlines the need for the European Union to stay a 'unity', rather than fall again apart, once there is no longer any money available to motivate some fake exercises in integration and co-operation, that became partly evident through Senelle's explicit reference to the initiative by van den Brande's government. As its legal advisor, he is most likely the one who formulated or else drew attention to the fact that the next topic on the agenda of any discussions about the 'Europe of Cultures' will have to be 'cultural actions'.

In stressing a new kind of cultural co-ordinates as being institutionalised due to the initiatives of regions, Senelle focused really upon a crucial question: how to uphold a European identity, if the prime aim of these initiatives is to retain a cultural identity along regional lines? These initiatives may turn out to be insufficient, when they imply only some vague notion of decentralisation or else a reaction to overt centralisation as being equal to anti-democratic forms of making decisions. The latter is something which cannot necessarily be used against the European Commission who happens to be more transparent and accessible than many national or regional governments. The reason for turning around, so as to find reasons why one should try to secure more regional identities, that cannot be derived solely from the general fear that people seem to have and which is expressed as being robbed of their 'cultural identity' by further, that is, unchecked European integration. There are too many in-built reflexes that no outsider seems to understand and yet which is part of the inherent spirit of a particular region, i.e. the Irish uprising against the British in 1916 has given them a different dimension of violence in history, just at a time when almost all other European nations were horrified by what was happening on the battle fields of First World War.

There is further the case that while material conditions can change more easily, 'habits of survival' are much more difficult to shake off. Since the Flemish had been suppressed by the French, it is understandable that they are sensitive when it comes to safeguarding their cultural identity, including their language, but it is impossible to project the same kind of fear upon the entire European integration process. Historical analogies have to be avoided. Things have changed after 1945 for all European countries, so also the options and the conditions of cultural articulation. One needs to refer only to the influence of the media.

Thus it is not convincingly enough to state simply that 'cultural actions' are needed in the wake of the Maastricht Treaty having been ratified. As if cultural integration can follow political and economic integration. The same mistake was committed by Kohl's 10 point re-unification plan of the former Western and Eastern Germany's after the fall of the Berlin wall, for he overlooked the fact that unification on the level of the DM is a most superficial one and that this cannot replace the hard, often unpaid work involved in bringing about true cultural cohesion and understanding. It begins already with mothers and fathers teaching their children languages and ways of growing up in a world that does not necessarily pay any attention at all to their specific needs.

Certainly it is true at a European level, that it will not be easy to safeguard 'cultural diversity' nor simple to bring about authentic identities which can be linked to these diverse fields of expressions. That this entails many dangers is underlined by the terror of the Basques seeking independence, the struggle of Catalonia with Madrid and the violence in Northern Ireland. It will require much more than just a legal framework for 'cultural actions' to be undertaken in support of both the cultural diversity and the European Union as a whole.

Senelle's real question appears to be still in need of being answered: what happens, when there is no compliance? Brought up with the thought that going against the law will have definite consequences, it is essential to clarify what the European Union must in future be able to do, in order to back up its decisions, and if necessary, be capable of enforcing them. Interesting is that so far compliance was possible only on the basis of an ill-defined reliance upon 'consensus', in reality almost worthless when it comes to political actions and yet the most outstanding cultural feature upon which the entire European integration process seems to rest or rely upon. That is an odd contradiction which does not materialise in more freedom, but rather elongates the agony of not knowing what 'cultural actions' mean, aim to do or should bring about. Such a non-reflected notion is not at all acceptable as a 'state of becoming a union'.

In response to that contradictory dilemma, the following question has to be answered. Is it possible to conceive some simple rules in the case that cultural agreements or even regulations are broken, in order to know how to respond as a single member state and collectively? The problem up to now has been that cultural affairs were considered to be the sole sovereign rights of every member state. Article 128 formalises merely this negative agreement as to what rights the European Union may not encroach upon. Furthermore, it is not at all clear what relationship between legal system and cultural activities can be envisioned after Maastricht. 1 Furthermore, one does not really speak about regulations or directives (formalised agreements) when it comes to cultural matters. Consensus is in need of another kind of legal binding nature. This indicates to what extent legal concerns cannot be easily transposed upon cultural matters. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to observe in future whether the European Union, or more specifically the European Commission responds to the challenge and demands by the Regions of Europe, that all member states act in respect of 'cultural diversity' and safeguard the rights of also the lesser spoken languages, to name but one cultural demand as an example. At the same time, it seems a difficult undertaking for rarely do particular interest groups re-recognise the fulfilment of their demands once concrete actions are undertaken. Even parents can only demand their children to stay free, but in reality they never meant that the children should go off with a boyfriend on a motor-cycle. The children certainly thought that they were acting within the wish of their parents, but fear and worries about the future distorts many perceptions. Thus, if it is already difficult to find a mature understanding between parents and children, or between different generations, what complicated matters are involved when it comes to negotiate terms of agreements on cultural matters at European level. It is also important whether or not there is any self-corrective mechanism available, that is, when it appears that the European Union ignores the cultural dimension and thus political consequences must be drawn, before it is too late. Usually this comes at a moment when regions start making unilateral decisions without any correspondence with other regions, because they feel no longer to be respected in their wish to have a distinct role in this overall European search for 'cultural identity'.

In other words, whether or not the concept 'Europe of Cultures' as advocated already by the title of the Fourth Seminar is an answer, that ought to be evaluated in a more comprehensive manner than just leading over from a theoretical discussion endorsing regionalisation to proposals for 'cultural actions' in the name of such initiatives like the one of the Flemish government. To make it more explicit, science is not here to pay lip-service merely to decided-upon political strategies. The same applies for any artist: his creativity cannot be dictated by some need to uphold a specific 'cultural identity'. Culture, the arts and life is more than that. Both sides of the coin make up a much more complex notion of culture in relation to politics. Thus the question becomes what neglect of culture relates to what causes an elongation of disturbances affecting negatively the European identity building process? By all understanding, there is a need to remain objective and independent of possible political influences when it comes to articulating cultural needs of Europe. The most convincing expressions, culturally speaking, are the ones brought about within the freedom of creativity. Europe needs not to be pressured into something, but rather to let a cultural movement in favour of Europe become its modest, but optimistic underpinning. Otherwise any other kind of integration process will be in the end a failure.

There is still another question to be answered. For how should the humanistic position of Article 128 be interpreted, if in practise this can be only possible in the very narrow sense of the word? Senelle seems to suggest that such reductions must be resisted for the sake of respective interpretations giving an outline of reality. Unity in future must take into account culturally defined stipulations in all cases. Indeed, the European Commission insists on a kind of 'systematisation', in order to take into account what will be the impact of institutional responses to this cultural demand. Whether or not that leads to policies meant to safeguard 'cultural diversity' within Europe, that remains to be seen. Here is needed not only a discussion on the basis of a true cultural criticism, but also an extended evaluation of the achievements and failures of the European Union until now. This is done best by including all cultural activities initiated in the name of Europe and involving, broadly speaking, quite different concepts from those of the scientific or other analytical approaches to the problem. The problem is not only keeping the cultures of Europe alive, but also the life in Europe interesting. That goes beyond any everyday usage of material goods, and does not mean the elongation of such compromises which have safeguarded until now the wrong comforts without any allegiance to truth.

As a matter of fact, the development of qualitative terms when it comes to evaluate cultural projects should be a major concern of the follow-up seminar to be held in Athens. For example, the mayor of Antwerp expressed the hope that after the city having hosted the 'cultural capital' of Europe 93 (originally an idea of Melina Mercouri), that people begin to identify themselves again more fully with their city; that is, stop voting for the extreme right wing or the Flemish bloc. Here the hope for a change in political orientation through culture becomes explicit. This means, cultural activity is linked to identification possibilities and furthermore to a kind of engagement re-affirming convictions in life. In the absence of this, other forms of protest rule the contest what is best to say and to do, so that there continues to exist a deeply worrying impact upon voting behaviour and political solutions sought. Slogans directed against foreigners rather than being for multi-cultural societies stem from the fact that even personal relationships can be perverted by an 'inertia of fear'. They are powerful forces to keep many voiceless. Cultural institutions can support only certain voices at a time. That has always been the contradiction: here the culturally educated elite and there the 'other' reality with all of its resentments and tendency to uphold hatred. The victims of life add with their opinions to this negative side. It is not easy to convince life is possible otherwise. Liveable political concepts without 'honesty' do not, however, adhere to anything, lest of all to the 'grammars of life'. Thus worries about voting behaviour linked to anti-foreigner attitudes is but a superficial political approach to the core of problems besetting European societies. In short, the conclusion must be drawn that politicians in general are at the end of their policy options to pressing needs. This reflects the potential danger of negative attitudes escaping any kind of positive 'political culture' based upon working out ideas in a honest manner and really giving time to possible consequences before political decisions are finally taken. This may not be expressed well enough, but it is a response to a very dangerous and really 'irrational' political culture from prevailing in Europe. In other words, it would be a mistake to ignore the reasons for right wing or extreme political formations like Neo-Nazi groups or else to relate these problems exclusively to European integration. For they are much more a part of daily life or the outcome of unresolved European tragedies. The Austrian writer Robert Musil tried to suggest in his novel 'Man without Attributes' that national (or regional) identities tend to forget that one ought not to take that all too serious, otherwise one would not really understand others nor the 'parallel actions' taking place at the same time. In short, there is the need for 'cultural identities' to stay free from pressures to take on identity even before such a complex concept can be fully understood or really fulfilled prior to the chance to mature, politically speaking.

In other words, such a political task for culture many mean also rethinking the very value premise of democracy in Europe. Given recent political developments, culture must in qualitative terms give value to democratic principles. 2 It is important that they are not just taken for granted, ignored or abused, but instead actively endorsed and above all really lived. To provide through culture a 'breathing space' in a world gone completely hectic, that may provide another criteria for what kind of life is desirable for Europeans. Since culture in the past had, however, not prevented bad experiences with political attempts trying to influence it, there is no way to guarantee the independence of artists, writers, poets and intellectuals. They should and ought to challenge the system in demonstrating a kind of 'systematisation' much more akin to human values than economic systems will or can ever be. Culture in that sense has very much to do with keeping the humanistic perspective alive. There is at the same time a need that people reflect more deeply their daily lived through experiences, so that they can come to an affirmation of life i n d e p e n d e n t of any demonstrative gesture to swear allegiance to the system, that is the most cunning way to survive. That is, however, not enough.

Only if there is in life something precious and vital, are concerns translatable into questions and clear concepts by which the judgement of things becomes practical. That such a solution has found only a weak response in European philosophy attests to the very weakness of any value premises as foundation for the European system of integration. For instance, there has been no response to crisis in life due to a lack of emotions, emptiness itself a circumscription of that dilemma when faced more by boredom that by lively interests. This cannot be overcome alone by sceptical attitudes, or philosophical anthropology with its emphasis upon Bergson and his 'élan vital' as cover-up of a deeply cynical attitude. Staying alive for the cynic means how to get more money without needing to stay in touch with human reality; it is really an assault upon human truths. These and other false notions reflect in turn a lack of tension, like a body gone dead or slack when the wind no longer blows into the sails. These are significant descriptions of life and mark emptiness wherever it appears or tries to determine people's attitude. Without money, that can become quickly reality; with money, the struggle seems hopeless, because elongated into different matters and issues. It was most overtly expressed by the philosopher Popper who opted for the reform rather than the revolution of society. He meant reform as a piece-meal approach to things. In that sense he lend his weight to people in power never delivering the full truth to those working for them, but merely gave piece by piece information to subversively infiltrate their minds until they accepted what was decided for them to accept. As one worker in Germany, for instance, explained after criticising only half heartedly publically the employers for sacking a colleague who had been serving the company for over Twenty years, why no solidarity came about: 'to be honest, he deserved no better treatment'. Social critique siding with the powerful ones turns always against the individual and isolates him from the social levels.

Staying alive for the cynic means adopting the 'voice of betrayal' and to become like Judas a subversive force never taking up any clear position. It is the life of 'half hearted truths', as Brendan Kennelly would describe it. This false notion reflects in turn a lack of true tensions related to life, love and compassion. There is in such empty sequence of actions, thoughts and experiences nothing which can remain sensitive to something else. It is as if humanity draws a line: up to here, then no more. They evoke changes and provoke misunderstandings wherever they claim to be innocent. For no one believes them, that is the tragedy, but it has nothing to do with mysticism. The latter clings much more to finding through forms of ecstasies a way to silence internal fears: the fears of the unknown. They fear to stand outside of society, or to be truly alone. This giving up of reason, of living in a 'tension' to society, explains why so many truths go unheeded and boredom replaces the sense for being involved in true activities. Michel Foucault called it the inability to live in 'tension' (not friction) and yet remain in 'tension', that is contact with what is going on in society. Very few people could do that according to his opinion. This very lack contributes to an absence of a systematic approach to things and life, whether now in business or at universities. It distorts the process of knowledge and quest for truth. It means equally a lack of opportunities for people to continue systematic studies of values and hence to gain through humanities insights into life. The crisis is but an indication of what is going wrong in the educational system in general. Anyhow, instead of putting emphasis upon humanities, much more importance is given to business oriented studies and hence to the illusion that not only management, but more so the administration of money counts. That means even institutions of education no longer support studies of Humanities, Art History, Philosophical Studies (dealing especially with the question of death) and Languages perceived in different cultural contexts. Yet the very notion of culture is based upon studies that can create dialogues across many borders and fields of knowledge, so that man does not succumb to fields of specialisation and still can retain a notion of orientation fitted to be supported by culture, as much as it is supportive of cultural means to reach man's goals. Thus the lack of support for such kind of studies is an indication itself of false investments and a wrong 'policy of knowledge'. It leaves too many possibilities unexplained nor does it allow for developments towards a full knowledge of things.

Again all these thoughts are based on reconsideration's of Adorno's 'Negative Dialectic' as a philosophy stressing not only identity, but also the ability to hold out onto a non-identity. This seems more appropriate when dealing with the paradoxes and contradictions in life. Indeed, this philosophical approach may contribute a great deal to both the identity question and culture. The latter is a part of aesthetical reflections. There is foremostly the warning of Adorno, namely 'the more there is talk about culture, the less of it is there in practice'. That can mean only one thing: the arts have become meaningless (or they were never) for those claiming to be practical oriented peoples. The astonishing fact is that cultural policy and activities by gallerists (see here reflections in workshop 5 by Prof. Guillet de Montheux as to the creation of both space and using it under a theme which can be called 'making love in the gallery') do not reflect upon this discrepancy; rather they seem to strive on the lack of understanding. If this is not the upkeep of an estranged or alienated system, then it is at least not the kind of arts used to foster identities about which Prof. Picht spoke about in his criticism of Lenoble's assumption that the arts, specifically literature could shape identity, namely naive arts. Hence, there must be a clarification about what kind of arts are being referred to, when there is made the claim that the European Union needs to undertake a cultural policy over and beyond the mere protection of 'cultural heritage'.

There are many ideas by which such projects can be realised: from Aristotle's concept of 'theory' to Sartre's attempt to describe the 'imagination'. Yet there are always insufficient questions burdening as it were any kind of cultural discussion. Kafka tried to start this or overcome it with his letters to 'Felice'. In another way, the ability to exist despite forces which may or may not intimate you, that is after all a part of the power struggle going on daily. Kafka did confess he could only exist between the lines he writes when compared to the business people of Frankfurt. It underlines that some people take up more space than what they should. Culture has in the final end something to do with giving space to everyone; the ability to exist depends, however, not only on physical, but even more so on artistic spaces in which the imagination is free to create things. Language is an inherent part of that. By that a person feels in reality a sense of belonging to something larger than him- or herself. This collective or relationship to the whole has changed in meaning over time. Sometimes it was replaced by the word community, nation and only rarely meant really the whole world. Yet the cultural defined space in which to articulate one's identity as given through values and language meant forms had to be specific and general at the same time, in order to allow for perception as based on 'extrapolation' (Piaget). This model of dealing with the outside world while remaining free within the culturally defined autonomous space works as long it can be assumed that things are rightly translated into one's own context and that despite the unknown factors, that other world, life within it, remains understandable, that is experienceable. These then are simple notions of prerequisites for a culture to remain a living one. Many have been known to die due to failures to correct major mistakes, including the violation of this basic premise of any culture having to remain open to influences of others, while not succumbing to negative forces from both inside and outside.

To repeat, if the European Union wants to approach questions of culture by means of experiences in 'systematisation', then political discussions must get involved in this development of systematic lines of reasoning. The latter fulfils a demand when it comes to dealing with complexity, including social history and millions of people living, working, eating etc. together or not. A seminar like this one pretending to deal with the question what does culture mean for Europe, or how does the European integration process affect the 'cultural diversity' within Europe, must be able to translate these issues having the potential to be controversial, politically speaking, into analytical themes which can be discussed and culturally evaluated within a meaningful theoretical framework. This is done by conceiving for each theme its inherent 'logic of questions' and by making sure that political policies are not implemented before they have been critically evaluated.

1 Vangelis Kassos makes an attempt to bring this point into the discussion; see Workshop 10 of the
Fifth Seminar in Athens.
2 See here the works of Tom Rothfield who compares the ancient theatrical forms of tragedy and comedy as to which of the two contributed to the development of democracy. He participated in workshop 6 of the Fifth Seminar. Theatre, linked to democracy, meant the ability to demonstrate the art of 'techne'.

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