Mr President, before highlighting a few elements of this elaborate report on the role of culture in the EU’s external actions, I want to sincerely thank my colleagues from the Committee on Culture and Education for their constructive collaboration and for unanimously adopting our joint work in the committee vote. Of course, civil society and other stakeholders have also provided very helpful input.
Culture has intrinsic value in our liberal democracies. It enriches peoples’ lives. The EU is well known for its cultural diversity and, at the same time, it is a community of values which apply equally to each citizen. These European values, such as respect for human rights, democracy and fundamental freedoms, are also represented by our cultural products. Cultural identity, values and the EU’s position on the global stage are intertwined. European interests are served when cultural aspects are strategically devised through cooperation and partnership, both through cultural programmes and when cultural aspects form an integral part of economic, foreign and security and development policies. Through the sharing of literature, film, music and heritage, doors of understanding are opened and bridges between people are built.
The EU also has important experiences to share when it comes to overcoming conflict and building stability through shared interests and mutual understanding. In the development of the External Action Service it is important to mainstream and streamline the role culture has, and should have, in the EU’s external actions. It should be a vital and horizontally integrated element among the broad spectrum of external policies which make up the EU’s foreign policy, from trade relations to its enlargement and neighbourhood policy, and its development cooperation and common foreign and security policy.
Culture also has economic value. Europe’s cultural industries contribute to European entrepreneurship, innovation and business, and the EU’s diverse cultural landscape makes it the most attractive tourist destination in the world. Knowledge and international skills are crucial to education and employment, as indicated in the EU 2020 strategy, but culture can also be considered as a vehicle which helps to foster democratisation, freedom of expression, inclusion, development, education, reconciliation and much else.
This very wide variety of aspects of cultural relations vis-à-vis third countries has led to a fragmentation of policies, which needs to change to a more coordinated and coherent EU strategy. We have chosen to emphasise the organisational and policy frameworks that are needed for the optimal coordination of culture in the EU’s external actions. The filling in of such content should not be governed and regulated to too great an extent ‘from the top down’.
European citizens are best able to benefit if the EU acts as a global player on the world stage. This requires funds to be used more efficiently, and we have to be aware of Europe’s competitive position and the struggle to attract tourists, talent, artists, business and students. We must speak with one voice and be aware of the competition from cultural programmes by China and the United States, to name just two. But there is no need to reinvent the wheel. The EU has a number of best practices from the Member States, as well as from different cultural institutions such as the Alliance française and the British Council.
Another aspect that is very prominent in our 21st century is the ever-larger role played by the new technologies, both in culture and in international relations. People depend increasingly on the Internet for access to information and can only express themselves freely when this information, and their communications, are not censored. The right to cultural development and other fundamental rights is increasingly facilitated by these technologies. Access to cultural content happens through new media as well, and the opportunities for global connectivity around European cultural goods and content should be celebrated and facilitated, for example, through Europeana or websites of museums and festivals. It is important that the EU develop a strategy for Internet freedom. I will come back to some of the concrete recommendations of this report in the last part of my intervention
Mr President, ‘if you want to know where hell is, ask the artist, and if you cannot find the artist, you know you are in hell’. I think this quote, which I found by an anonymous author in Sarajevo, summarises the importance of arts and culture not only for open societies but also for our relations with the rest of the world. Bosnia and Herzegovina, with Sarajevo as its capital, belongs to one of the black holes on the European map, and this is due to our history. Now, however, we have to look to the future.
The people of Sarajevo have come close to knowing hell, especially during the siege of that city, and arts and culture have helped people there to survive. The orchestra rehearsed while the city was being shelled, and the winter festival full of arts and culture continued. Sarajevo deserves a European spring. The next generation suffers from the wounds of history, and we have an important responsibility as Europeans to look to the future with them and to include them in the European horizon.
I fully support Ms Pack’s initiative and I want to ask Parliament to support it and to do everything we can to include Sarajevo as a European cultural capital. I believe that, if we all want this, it absolutely can be possible, because it would be very disappointing if our ideas and common sense were to be blocked by bureaucracy.
Mr President, I am coming back to you with some concrete next steps on the report on the role of culture in the EU’s external actions that we talked about this morning. I want to start with a quote from a Hungarian diplomat in the United States, Mr Simonyi, who said that ‘rock and roll, culturally speaking, was a decisive element in loosening up communist societies and bringing them closer to the world of freedom’. When we look, in particular, at today’s uprisings of the young generation in North Africa and the Middle East, we can see that, today, an open Internet is that decisive element for moving into the world of freedom. We need an Internet freedom strategy to facilitate free expression, press freedom, access to information and access to cultural and educational content.
This is a priority, but there are many more concrete suggestions in the report, for which the foundations are already laid down in both the Lisbon Treaty and the ratification of the UNESCO conventions. They now need practical implementation.
The External Action Service should coordinate the work of different Directorates-General and create a Directorate-General for cultural and digital diplomacy. EEAS staff should be trained, and a cultural attaché is needed in each EU representation. There needs to be coordination, streamlining and mainstreaming through an interinstitutional taskforce which should report back to the European Parliament.
We ask the Commission to adopt a Green Paper in 2011, followed by a communication on a strategy for cultural cooperation in the EU’s external actions. We also call for capacity-building through the funding of initiatives independent of government, and we want to promote EU cultural activities in the rest of the world on line also.
Existing programmes, such as the European Neighbourhood Policy and the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, have cultural components which need to be coordinated and strategically deployed. We also need to protect and promote cultural heritage, such as through the Blue Shield programme, and we need to engage in cultural policy dialogues with third countries.
Human rights should be respected, and cultural arguments can never be used to justify violations of human rights. I would recommend that colleagues read the report. I think that this debate shows that we need many more discussions on culture in the EU.