site.btaEuropean Economic and Social Committee Calls for Enhancing Role of European Cultural Diplomacy
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), the advisory body representing European civil society, calls for enhancing the role of European cultural diplomacy. An opinion on the role of cultural diplomacy, adopted at EESC's October plenary session, highlights the significance of the cultural dimension in the current geopolitical context.
"At a time when war has returned to the European continent, culture needs more than ever to become a core strategic vehicle of the EU's foreign policy," the EESC said in a statement.
To unlock its full potential, the EESC calls for the establishment of a fully-fledged multiannual strategic action plan on cultural diplomacy.
Culture could be a core asset in Europe's internal path, but also in the external image that the EU projects, said rapporteur and EESC member Luca Jahier. This is particularly true today, with a war on Europe's doorstep and millions of forcibly displaced people.
In a phone interview for BTA, he talks about the urgent need to initiate a culture vector in EU foreign policy, about its potential and about the benefits for European culture and creative industries. He points to the role of experts’ dialogue on cultural heritage and history especially in the Western Balkans.
He says that culture is at the very core of the European project, whose full potential hasn't been sufficiently exploited due to fragmented action and the absence of overall visibility and a tangible strategic vision.
Jahier particularly emphasizes the importance of cultural heritage as an inherently politically sensitive and highly complex subject, and hence a powerful and complementary diplomatic component of the EU's approach to peace, security and sustainable development.
The EESC recommends launching pilot projects in certain areas where coordinated EU action can make a difference, linked to the political priorities already identified in these regions, for example the Western Balkans, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Africa and Ukraine.
Emphasis should also be put on boosting the capacity of civil society active in the cultural sector in each country and on developing independent grassroots organizations.
Following are highlights from the BTA interview:
Q: Why culture diplomacy right now?
A: After 17 years of documents, discussions, Council decisions, debate in the European parliament , the Communication from 2016 of the then EC Vice president Federica Mogherini it is finally time to pass to a more structured, visible and fully-fledged strategic plan on doing this. Because of course things have been done but not like part of a strategy.
The first and main demand of the EESC opinion is to have finally a fully-fledged strategic plan for the cultural diplomacy as a vector of the EU foreign policy.
The second reason is that exactly the time of disruption, conflict, new division and even war in the last horrible months of the aggression towards Ukraine we do need such an important, strong instrument of foreign policy to prevent where possible the raising of other conflict, to cure, to restore, to reestablish and also as an instrument of building a positive approach in international relations as culture is, has always been and could be at the forefront. It has already been raised as an action in some member states. This is by the definition a non-controversial subject between European member states although culture is mainly a competence of national governments. So it could be a way to reinforce a joint, common and coordinated external action in strategic areas of the world that are priorities of the EU.
Q: Does that mean that you will easily find support in the EP and member states for this initiative?
A: There is a political consensus. And there is a space for the EU to play a leading role in transforming all these consensus of energy and multitude of fragmented actions in a coordinated and more visible strategic approach.
What we really need is a more visible and leading role of the European External Action Service in coordination with other EU institutions and also with the member states. Like the good example of the so-called Team Europe – the EU institutions within the member states, that has to be applied to culture with a strategic plan that puts together everything that exists, asks for better inclusion all the actions that already are organized. Many civil society organizations, private enterprises, museums, clubs of arts – there are lots of international networks and actions led by private actors. A joint common and visible strategy could find a specific place and be recognized in their autonomy as part of a larger and coordinated action. We need a strategy and investment with more coordinated budget and a structure to make the unity of this coordinated action visible in the European space.
Q: The culture sector and creative industries in Europe suffered a lot during the pandemic. What kind of support do they need and is a new role foreseen in the EESC initiative to help boost European culture?
A: The opinion does not deal with the support in the 27 member states in the cultural sector because we are speaking about foreign policy of EU. But including the many already existing initiatives and actions of the cultural sector worldwide is also a way to recognize the role of culture in our society and it is also a way to support.
The EESC was the first European institution to put culture among the 3 leading priorities during my past mandate as a President and to think that culture should become a core priority and a core investment for the EU. I was very proud when I saw two years ago the EC President Ursula von der Leyen launching the project of the New European Bauhaus as a way to keep culture more involved in local communities, citizens and actors on the ground field in the revolution of the green and digital transformation of Europe. And in this way she was recognizing culture not only as a positive narrative to accompany this transformation but also to be a fundamental factor of transformation.
Q: Culture and cultural heritage are one of the first victims of war and conflict as we see in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere. How may a new European action help in this area?
A: Very often in conflicts one of the first victims after people and infrastructure are also cultural institutions, cultural symbols. Destroying what is the core identity of a nation is one of the instruments of war. Protecting the cultural heritage is a core action as well as the preparation for a reconstruction. A nation lives with the fundamental services of the economy, the infrastructure, health system, schools but it lives also with books, artists, music, museums, all the places where people are capable to express what they think, where they belong, where they feel part of the heritage. And when in time of conflict you act to preserve the heritage not only to be destroyed but for it to be reconstructed after the conflict you got a lot of recognition and you even put in the reconstruction process a positive element of building up new future after the terrible time of war. So I do think in many scenarios such an action is a core. The Tigray region in Ethiopia, where there is a war, has one of the oldest historical heritages of Africa that is also linked with the copts. They are part of the identity and also a leverage of growth, jobs and wealth of the region because they help tourism, economic development.
Q: The EESC recommends launching pilot projects in certain areas such as the Western Balkans where coordinated EU action can make a difference, linked to the political priorities already identified in these regions. Could you give an example for such a project that may help overcome the difficulties in the dialogue between EU member states and candidate countries in Southeastern Europe?
A: This is exactly one of the regions where, from my point of view, culture has a role in building a new form of unity and understanding. After the disintegration of Yugoslavia, there has been a lot of rewriting history from sub-national or national point of view and losing long-term sense of history. It has been a history of conflict but it has been a history of meetings and belonging to common space. The city of Sarajevo, for example, has been an outstanding center of culture.
We are looking for projects putting together historians from different countries or regions trying to work with that history and put in together different points of view to find a wider historical point of view. Not to have one history against other histories. Taking another conflict of the recent days - the failure of the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade, the question of the cultural identity linked to the religious history is of foremost importance. You can work on any agreement - economy, rules, registration of cars, but if the others' identity is not recognized, you will never create a good environment for positive understanding and living together. At the end of the day, there are only two alternatives: either one destroys the other or they all learn to live together.
This work must involve much more the young people.
Cultural heritage that is used as a weapon in one's fight against the other may become a resource for the future, a source of business and wealth, of innovation and creativity.