Memo May 2007


A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in May 2007

Heavy documents were born in May. 

Soft communication
The communication of the Commission on a European cultural agenda is less visionary than Robert in the last entry of this memo. Try to explain the essence of the fourteen-page "important strategy document on culture" to the man in the street: what exactly are the main goals set to the Union to achieve in the following years? Nevertheless, BO sincerely greets the document, in the same spirit as Gottfried did. The ice has broken: the Commission is prepared to bring community cultural action into line with the subsidiarity principle. We have been waiting for this for long.

Open method
The sector has been bombarding the centre for more joint action in culture. Now the centre shows us the way to achieve this: embark upon the road of OMC, the open method of co-oordination.

The cultural sector, too, must acquire full command of this open method. (BO, I mean the Budapest Observatory prefers to use real words instead of acronyms that alienate common folks.) In addition to what the communication tells about this method, you find easy introduction in this entry. For advanced learners a more sophisticated paper is recommended, also a case description about how the method has worked in the research sector.

The open method is intergovernmental, although governments are encouraged to involve non-governmental actors. This co-operation is more flexible than usual formal EU activities; however, consensus is still needed about the main elements of each new co-operation area. How exactly to identify joint actions or policy areas and how to achieve consensus is still opaque - but culture has able representatives in the EU institutions, hasn't it: they will guide us. We must push them though.  

Earlier attempts at enhanced co-operation in culture have borne some amateur character. Nonetheless, they are worth studying while preparing to tackle the new open method.

A piece of clarity
In the agenda section of the communication BO found a passage that relates to the Unesco convention: the EU will "promote market access, both to European and other markets, for cultural goods and services from developing countries through targeted actions as well as through agreements that grant preferential treatment or trade-related assistance measures". Unparalleled precision in the sea of verbosity about diversity

Europeans on culture
The Eurobarometer qualitative study on Europeans, their culture and cultural values was also released in May. This is highly interesting read, although citizens interrogated all over Europe mostly reiterated the usual formulas. (Commonplaces about culture sound more authentic and in place when quoted from an individual who is identified as Latvia, lower-middle social and educational level than from intellectual and artistic celebrities cited in the communication.)

Culture is generally valued very highly. Diversity and exchanges were the two key words that the researchers extracted from the answers on principal expectations from the European Union.

What went somewhat against expectations was the USA complex of so many Europeans with regard to culture: the remaining regions of the world were mentioned much less frequently. 

The intensity of the euroscepticism of many Britons, too, went beyond anticipation: "The EU is not very active in the field of culture and things should stay that way. It is too bureaucratic and expensive, and has neither the necessary aptitude nor the required legitimacy."

Cinema is culture
When European citizens are asked about community action for culture, cinema is among the first things they remember and approve.

(So does the communication when achievements are listed; symptomatically though, when discussing the European agenda for culture, cinema and media are no more mentioned. Administrators are territorial animals: do not trespass the audiovisual terrain.) 

Ministers conclude
BO dutifully reports about semiannual meetings of the 27 culture ministers. The latest was the 2802nd in a row and was held on 24-25 May. The main product was the Council Conclusions on the contribution of the cultural and creative sectors to the achievement of the Lisbon objectives.

The Council appears to be determined to keep to its pledge made at the 2762nd about reinforcing fact collection - "with a view to promoting evidence-based policy making". (They can count on BO.) This target will be easier to achieve than "to maximise the potential of small and medium sized enterprises in the cultural and creative sectors" and to mainstream culture in the Lisbon agenda, which are the main goals of the conclusions.

Active bodies
If you want to see the bodies that were announced in May as being really active at European level in the field of culture, you should consult three lists .

EU money spent on (most of) the 24 networks is essential for the proper articulation of the voices of the various fields of culture. All 24 are based in an old member state, although BE for Brussels can be considered as neutral ground indeed. However, all the 13 festivals selected for community support are also located in one of the 15 old members: BO hopes that this is counterbalanced by preferential treatment for participants from the new eastern member countries. (Who is to blame that the event called Fondazione Romanaeuropa Arte e Cultura could not be identified: Google, BO or the Commission?)

BO has reservations about the category of the six ambassadors: live curio shops where artistic value is achieved at disproportionate public expense. Do not worry though: politicians, journalists and some artists love the genre and will not listen to BO. 

Be bold!
Coaches use harsh language and do not spare rebukes when they talk to players in the intervals of games, regardless whether the team is about to win or lose.  

This is how authors of Compendium felt, listening to the man from Strasbourg. The Compendium team met in Zagreb in order to discuss ways of further progress, from the reliably informative to the trend spotter, norm watcher and inspirer.

This initiative comes closest to meeting the fact collecting objective of the conclusions of the 2802nd, as well as to the goals for cultural statistics reluctantly pursued by the OECD