Written by Magdalena Pasikowska-Schnass,
Culture as a tool of EU diplomacy aims at reinforcing cultural diversity, human rights, and social and economic cohesion based on cultural and creative industries as a driving force for growth. Yet, in the view of the European Parliament, EU action needs proper funding and a clearly defined programme. An own-initiative report on the communication ‘Towards an EU strategy for international cultural relations’ is due to be voted during the July plenary session.
Europe’s cultural and artistic heritage, as well as its thriving creative and cultural sector, raise interest all over the world and attract a significant number of tourists and visitors. The EU’s specific experience of reconciling respect for divergent traditions, different cultures and languages with its ambition to forge common solutions and provide peace and prosperity, enhances the potential of international action as a ‘soft power’ promoting intercultural and inter-religious dialogue, with freedom of expression and creation as its fundamental values.
EU achievements on external cultural relations
Ten years ago, the European Commission adopted a communication on a European agenda for culture in a globalising world, aimed at granting culture a more significant place in EU external relations. It was endorsed by the European Council in 2007, and successive 2008, 2014 and 2015 conclusions of the Council of the EU further highlighted the diplomatic potential of cultural relations. The European Parliament endorsed the 2007 agenda for culture in a 2008 resolution, calling for EU coordination of cultural relations and the promotion of European culture in its 2011 resolution. A year later it voted for a dedicated budget of €500 000 for a preparatory action on culture in external relations for the 2013-2014 period. A resultant 2014 study fed into the June 2016 joint communication, ‘Towards an EU strategy for international cultural relations’, by the Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The communication outlines three areas of EU cultural actions in external relations: socio-economic development focusing on cultural policies, the role of local authorities in cultural initiatives, and cultural and creative industries in partner countries; intercultural dialogue for peace and stability; and protection of cultural heritage against natural disasters, armed conflicts, and trafficking in artefacts, which finances terrorist activities. Until recently, the EU has not coordinated cultural activities in the external action of its Member States, leading to their fragmentation at EU level. The 2016 communication introduces elements of coordination, such as cultural focal points in EU delegations, and creates tools for enhanced EU cooperation though existing policy instruments and funding mechanisms. A Cultural Diplomacy Platform was created in 2016 to facilitate networking of cultural stakeholders, develop training programmes and provide advice on cultural policy. A fund of €1.5 million will finance EU film festivals in the world as of 2017. The May 2017 Council conclusions confirmed the need to coordinate actions via a dedicated platform.
European Parliament position
On 30 May 2017, the Committees on Foreign Affairs (AFET) and on Culture and Education (CULT) adopted an own initiative report, ‘towards an EU strategy for international cultural relations’. The report finds that the communication lacks substance and an effective EU cultural diplomacy strategy, with an annual action programme and a separate budget line. It highlights the importance of creators’ international mobility, and calls for the development of international artists’ residency programmes as well as regional creative hubs. Council presidencies could launch joint cultural actions with the EU, and Member States should cooperate in the fight against trafficking in heritage artefacts.
Own-initiative report: 2016/2240(INI); Committees responsible: AFET and CULT (jointly under Rule 55); Rapporteurs: Elmar Brok (EPP, Germany), Sylvia Costa (S&D, Italy).
Read this Plenary At a Glance note on ‘EU strategy for international cultural relations‘ in PDF.
Listen to podcast ‘EU strategy for international cultural relations‘