Calling for a New Doctrine of EU External Cultural Relations

BO contribution to the public consultation for the development of a future cultural European programme
Responses given by the Budapest Observatory late in 2002, in contribution to the consultation for the development of a future European cultural programme    

On the tasks of the European Union in the cultural field

The Treaty of the European Union (Article 151), sets limits on community actions in the cultural field, emphasising cooperation between the Member States, while respecting the principle of subsidiarity. It is too early to tell, even by knowing the draft text completed by the Convention, how the new Constitution will modify this mission.

There have been signs, however, that the Union shows flexibility in interpreting its own remit. One such domain is External Relations. A dozen years ago the Union left most of its foreign activity, too, to the discretion of the members. Lately, concerted direct actions have multiplied, or voices for such collaboration have intensified. The two main reasons have been the accelerating pace of economic globalisation and the growing political tension in the world: this latter in our geographical vicinity (the Balkans), and in the hubs of our civilisation (11 September).

New openings in the external relations of the EU have been exemplified, among others, by

  • repeated efforts to take joint EU stance at the ongoing negotiations for a new world trade order
  • the establishment of the position of a High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy
  • increased activity in international peace-keeping and restoring undertakings (including lately in Iraq)
  • and, as the latest and most welcome move, the communicated will of the Commission to concentrate some of its actions into a new Neighbourhood Instrument

We propose to significantly and bravely strengthen the cultural component of the external community actions. The existing administrative and legal barriers need to be removed in order this goal could be realised: once Article 151 calls for a cultural dimension in all community actions, this should increasingly apply to external actions as well. The future Community program for cultural cooperation should include external cultural actions as a new dimension: whether as a sub-chapter of those strands that lend themselves to this, or as a separate chapter in its own right.

It is not the task of this modest contribution to argue at length for the rationale behind such a proposal (being prepared to complement so, if encouraged, though). Suffice to quote Mr Javier Solana, who in his latest address available at the ‘europa' site claims: "I spare no efforts in trying to raise the EU's profile and influence in other regions of the world." For us, it is obvious, that such noble goals are impossible to reach without the means of culture.

What we are advocating hereby is to create a new doctrine of external cultural relations of the European Union, by creating a closer interrelationship between the cultural and the external actions of the Union.

On the European added value of cultural actions

When the Council at its 2461st meeting defined the components of European added value,  one of the criteria was to 'address, reach and benefit primarily citizens in Europe'. It would probably go against the will of the authors to interpret this item as an absolute criterion, not only because of the word 'primarily', but also because the joint prevalence of all 7 criteria does not appear to be the intention of the authors (one wonders though about the sense of the word ‘cumulatively'). 

The recent survey on cultural cooperation in Europe (in which our organisation had the honour to participate) revealed that in case of some old member states a shift can be observed towards external actions to the detriment of inter-European cooperation. This is a natural and useful phenomenon. European culture, best conveyor of European values, increasingly has more important mission in the wide world, than within the 15, or even 25 lands. This outward trend, however, often coincides with the tightening of national budgets for cultural foreign relations. This has led to first sporadic, then more conscious instances of sharing resources between countries, leading to joint cultural apperances in distant continents. Whether by intention, or by consequence, this has resulted in brandishing common European credentials. The Commission, and the new Community program ought to study such initiatives, capitalise from their experiences and advocate similar cases on a much broader scale. Traditionally, the best means of advocacy is funding: the successor of Culture 2000 should contain additional dedicated resources for this purpose.

One important element of European added value, as identified by the Council, is ‘Actions with objectives and effects that are better achieved at Community level than at Member State level'. This is it: combining the isolated national efforts to spread European values through cultural actions, will bear more effects.

Especially as the majority of the members has very limited means to act in this fashion: the bulk of the burden to carry European culture outside of the Union is borne by the countries that have the necessary institutional set-up: above all the British Council, the French Institute (with the Alliances), and the Goethe Institue. If there is sufficient incentive, political and financial, the smaller nations can add their cultural strength to concerted actions.

A special remark must be made about the accession countries. They live in the fever that is typical before wedding: most of their thoughts are about the future partners. Their cultural cooperation is almost exclusively oriented towards the EU nucleus. This is normal, pleasant and useful. However, by neglecting their neighbours, or societies with which, for historical reasons, they are disposed to communicate easier than the 'rich' European west, an important potential remains unused. These countries need to be particularly encouraged, by various means, to take their shares in ‘exporting' European cultural values over the borders of their new international community.  

On the nature of actions

The nature of the actions depends to a large degree about the region. In the neighbourhood area, in the 'rest of Europe' and the Mediterranean basis, cooperation and mutual involvement should be the main objective. On other continents, indeed, the promotion of European values is the main mission.

The actual nature of cultural actions may embrace every kind of existing forms: mainly cultural presentations ranging from one-shot acts (concert, exhibit, film-show) to festival-like series of events.

The nature of cooperation between participating member states may again vary, from the purely technical, the joint exploitation of premises and logistics, to the highly symbolical instances, where the main emphasis is on the conjunction of various facets of European culture.

On inter-institutional cooperation

The quintessence of our proposal is to call for improved synergy between cultural cooperation projects developed by Member States, by adopting a new doctrine of external cultural relations of the European Union, whereby lending a new dimension to the Community actions for culture.

The case for European cultural industries

International cultural cooperation has two main kinds of goals: promotion and cooperation. We have been observing (also suggesting) beginnings of a trend to move away from the promotion of national culture according to the logic of nation states, towards more unselfish efforts to enhance cooperation between cultural actors. One level higher, with regard to the external cultural actions of the European Union, still the prominence of promotion is in order, giving way, step by step, to cooperation and reciprocity at a later stage.

All through this contribution of ours the promotion of values has been emphasised. This, however, cannot be separated from the promotion of culture as commodity. Unless external cultural actions observe the rules of marketing, and the goals of additional employment opportunities for EU citizens, the spiritual objectives will not be properly achieved.

Or, approaching from the other end, the efforts to promote European cultural services and commodities, and the organisations and individuals that create them, embedded into the promotion of general commercial interests of the Community, will inevitably result in advancing European values: provided if done well, professionally, and -which is the essence of this plea- combining different national endeavours.

A propos cultural industries. One cannot help wondering about the huge discrepancy between the acknowledgement of the justification to provide substantial community funds to the European film industry (thanks God), and the cautious and insignificant financial promotion of the book industry. Better to say, to one tiny segment of publishing (albeit indeed, the most sensitive for the Community), the translation of belles-lettres. A thorough investigation would be needed to explore chances and justification for applying some of the proven measures in the film industry to the European book industry.


A similar document from 2006