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Culture and EU foreign policy

The official position is stated on the website of the EU as follows:

Culture and External Relations

"Article 151 of the Treaty requires the EC and its Member States to promote cultural aspects in its international relations with partners countries and regions; within the EU enlargement, as well as in the context of development and trade policies, as a contribution to a world order based on sustainable development, peaceful coexistence and dialogue between cultures. 

These principles are also enshrined in the 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Protection and the Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, and as Party to the Convention, the European Community, alongside the EU Member States, is committed to making cultural diversity an essential element of its external action and to developing a new and more active cultural role for Europe in international relations."




From this can be taken a prime priority, namely to establish good working relationships in the context of both development and trade policies. This economic priority implies not cultural but primarily economic development (world trade).

At a second level of priorities, this priority is qualified to specify three goals:


While efforts to reach at world level sound agreements about sustainable development have been frought with failures, especially with regards to agreement on indicators and measures,

peaceful coexistence has not meant the ability to use culture for changing the agenda away from over expensive arms procurement investment programs to refining methods using the soft power of culture i.e. dialogue to advance peace and peace prospects,

while at the same time, a peace dimension to exist requires more than mere dialogue even if this is already a huge challenge. Following the UNESCO declaration on cultural diversity, this dialogue between cultures is being supported by the Intersectorial Platform for Peace and Non Violence at UNESCO, but within the limits and scope of its outreach to NGOs and other organizations of civil society to maintain this peace process. Some lessons can be drawn from such diverse fields as the peace process in Belfast, the conversion to peace in Colombia with Medellin being a prime example when it comes to use of architecture to alter both buildings and public spaces, or else the Kids' Guernica mural painted in the peace oasis in Israel.

For further analysis and discussion, it might be useful to see where can be questioned that the EU in relation to culture uses other than just a pragmatic definition of culture and therefore is inclined at the moment to further 'creative and cultural industries' (see report by KEA) as element of their foreign policy based on culture i.e. understanding thereof.

There have been made attempts to introduce the cultural dimension in EU foreign policy especially as long as  there is reference being made to the so-called 'soft power' and therefore it leads to a promotion of certain priorities which the EU feels strong enough to be able to promote them.

One of the most pronounced dimensions so far has been 'intercultural dialogue', and this in response to the ongoing crisis in the Middle East with regards to the 'Israeli-Palestine' conflict. As this concept came under some strong criticism as not being able to capture the nuances of different dialogues or being able to initiate dialogues there, where people have withdrawn their empathy for the other side, it has not been really implemented except when drawing in the arts to show cultural diversity.

It leads to the question how is Europe represented - by national groups showing something together or by exhibitions which are at the level of European identity. Since there cannot be assumed as of yet that a cultural synthesis has been attained at European level, the usual presentation of European culture has been a mixture of different cultures. Always it will be difficult as well to step outside the national frameworks while still retaining a true tension to the liveable and existing cultural diversity within Europe. How to resolve this question became an endeavour of all European cultural institutes (Goethe, British Council, Cervantes, Institute Francaise etc.) attempting to form a network in order to plan and to promote some common elements in all European cultures. But this work has not gone far enough to allow for a participation of artists since the main promotion is still within a national framework as indicated best by the existing EU cultural programme and the Subsidarity principle being still the main premise when it comes to approaching the question of culture i.e. how it should be financed and how decisions are made to further culture.

Needs can be translated once the EU diplomatic missions would be perceptive enough to see what Arab countries need after the Arabic Spring. Before that it had been a strong criticism that all efforts to bring about a dialogue between Arab countries and the European Union have failed (see Prof. Kacem at the ECCM Symposium 'Productivitiy of Culture' held in Athens 2007: www.productivityofculture.org). Marseilles 2013 took up this need by making Albert Camus and the Arab philosophers to be the pillars of the original concept, but since having obtained the designation to carry the title in 2013 the concept has been altered very much e.g. fashion designers are brought together so that the usual EU model of cultural integration is being applied but with no leverage to really confront those reasons for a failure in dialgue.

2012 has been devoted very much to help improve relations between the EU and China. This has been done in various ways but so far even that is but a realization with China becoming a leading power in the world - see its blockage of any peace effort in Syria - it amounts to a pragmatic catching up with what already many have done in seeking business in China. This then entails a danger if diplomacy is commercialized or becomes a servant of business interests. Rather real cultural communication has to be between people in recognition of their needs. How complicated that becomes can be seen onhand of Tibet and the cultural needs being translated into a kind of political religion which seeks independence and which is represented by the politics of the Dalai Lama. It would be of interest to know what guidelines have been developed to distinguish between religion and culture. The same applies to all Muslim countries.

Culture is a part of the universal self understanding based on human and cultural rights while the very concept of world governance (Habermas) invokes a need for shared values. Here the conflict could not be greater between proponents of democracy compared to followers of the Islam. That dilemma is reflected at the United Nations not only with regards to Syria but more so when it comes to deal with the Palestinian question of statehood. Insofar as UNESCO has been severely punished for having accepted Palestine as full member insofar as the United States and other countries have withdrawn their funds from UNESCO, it means there are some real barriers in what can be done to alleviate the problems of people living under nearly impossible conditions as made evident by the wall encroaching upon the lives of the Palestinians. David Grossman, the Israeli writer, expresses it well when he says how ridiculous is this claim of land when it belongs to all and to no one since human beings are but visitors for a short while of their lives on this planet called 'earth'.  If anything this one common ground should become the base of world governance with no one having any Rights to claim land as only theirs and thereby able to deny access to this land to others as they do not belong to humanity living on this earth. From land to a viable peace dimension is quite a far distance given all the wars and armed conflicts, but also state related claims as being sovereign territorities, when the drawing of these borders is more often arbitrary and never does any justice to the Rights of people to be like all nomads who are able to move freely about to stay in touch with the earth. The death of the nomads says a lot about what is happening on this earth (see here the novel by George Crane, 'Beyond the House of the False Lama').

Hatto Fischer 7.10.2012


Sources of information about EU Foreign Policy:

MEMO of Budapest Observatory: Strategy in the making?

"A report was submitted in the European Parliament about the cultural dimensions of the EU’s external actions. The effort has a long pre-history.

The preambula of such reports are often the hotbed for bullshit, a collection of presumptuous slogans. Not this one! The Schaake report describes culture in nine unpretentious statements (from A to I). Yet not without weight and originality, see for instance the first one: “the EU is a culturally diverse community of values”.

Besides the usual common sense proposals calling for more synergy, new is the accent on digital diplomacy and on the Unesco diversity convention.

What is missing from the report is the assessment of the survival capacity of the old paradigm in cultural diplomacy, the predominance of nation branding at the expense of promoting joint European values."

Regional Observatory on Financing Culture in East-Central Europe
(The Budapest Observatory) – Peter Inkei

H-1051 Budapest, Október 6 utca 14
Tel: (361) 327 3829
Fax: (361) 374 0898


KEA wins bid for the Goethe Institut to advise EC on Culture and External Relations

Brussels, 23 October 2012

KEA was mandated by the Goethe Institut to prepare the successful offer to advise the EC on Culture and External Relations. The latter was awarded 91 out of 100 points by the European Commission for its clear and solid methodology and strong and experienced team. In total 9 tenderers submitted an offer to the DG EAC of the European Commission this summer. KEA is also member of the consortium team in charge of implementing the 19 months project with EU funding of almost 500.000 Euros.

The Consortium consists of eight members: the Goethe Institut as lead partner, British Council, Danish Culture Institute, European Cultural Foundation, Institut Français, Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen, KEA and Bozar. All members are convinced that culture will play a decisive role in the development of the EU´s external relations in the near future. They are committed to bringing new knowledge and evidence to the attention of policy-makers on national, European and international levels. 

The team will collect data and information on culture activities linked to external actions in 53 countries throughout the world, including China. The aim is to provide an overview of strategic approaches to culture in external relations in the different countries and produce a clear set of recommendations for the development of a EU strategy. An international  conference will also be organized in Brussels mid 2014  to discuss with stakeholders the preliminary conclusions of the mapping and consultations process before the final results are presented in a report to the European Commission. 

KEA is a Brussels-based strategic consultancy and research center providing advice, support and research in relation to creative industries, cultural, entertainment, media and sport sectors. KEA has conducted landmark studies for the European Commission on the “Economy of Culture in Europe” and on “The Impact of Culture on Creativity”. KEA is specialised in providing advice to different clients from the creative industries on copyright policies and issues around the world.

For more information please consult: www.keanet.eu
Contact: Allison Reekie a.reekie@keanet.eu or +32 (0)2 289 26 00.

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