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“Multiple Benefits for All”: The EU Does Cultural Relations

June 16, 2014

Last week a group of European ‘cultural operators’ put out, on behalf of the EU a report entitled Culture in EU External Relations: Engaging the World – Towards Global Cultural Citizenship, this is intended as a step towards the developing a role for culture in the EU’s external relations.   Not surprisingly these organizations, (which can expect to benefit from more funding for culture) are thoroughly in favour:

Multiple benefits for all will be the principal outcomes of such a new strategy.

These outcomes will include stronger links of mutual empowerment and trust between Europeans and their interlocutors in third countries. They will open up significantly greater markets for Europe’s creative economy or enhance and improve political relations with other regions. They will contribute to the nurturing of artistic excellence everywhere. They will therefore offer ‘win win’ benefits across the board.

 

Aren’t there any downsides? Given that there’s no attempt to map out the necessary scope of such a strategy beyond mentioning some possible pilot projects there are no costs so it’s all win win.

There are some very interesting parts of this document not least the summaries of the research that was done on the 18 countries that are part of the European Neighbourhood and the 10 that have Strategic Partnerships with the EU.  Particularly in Asia some of the Partners really don’t seem that interested in Europe at all.  Closer to home some the reactions seem to be ‘if you put up the money of course we’ll collaborate with you’

I’ve blogged before about the rise of cultural policy and the way that this has affected the discussion of culture in external relations. The classical view of the relationship is expressed in this tweet from the French Foreign Ministry:

 

 

We do cultural things and it makes our country look good and spreads our influence around.   Yet there’s a second way of thinking about culture which has been important in Europe which is ‘cultural cooperation’ there’s a genealogy here that leads from early 20th century advocates of European federation, through the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation of the League of Nations and the Western European Union and the Council of Europe. Here cultural cooperation an objective in its own right, in part at least, because it was seen as way towards a common European identity. The Council of Europe was one of the vectors for spreading the idea of cultural policy via the mechanisms of cultural cooperation (Parry 2000).   Thus the report here veers between an instrumental language and one that simply takes it for granted that culture is its own justification. Indeed at points I get the impression that there’s an instrumentalization of the instrumental language – that is they talk about political or economic effects because they think it will make the report more persuasive.

There’s some appreciation of the difficulties that the EU will have in running a cultural policy as part of its external action but given the difficulties that the organization is already having funding and coordinating public diplomacy and getting buy in from different Directorates General (see Duke 2013) it’s really difficult to see coordination happening.

It’s also noticeable that compared to a British Council concept of cultural relations or German Auswärtige Kulturpolitik culture in the report is understood quite narrowly education, science, development are mostly excluded and the focus is on arts and arts management with some reference to cultural and creative industries but the EU definition includes advertising which seems quite far from the core concerns of this document.

Duke S (2013) The European External Action Service and Public Diplomacy, in Davis Cross MK and Melissen J (eds) European Public Diplomacy: Soft Power at Work, New York: Palgrave, pp. 113–136.

Parry J (2000) Companies of Clouds: The Development of Multilateral Cultural Cooperation in Western European International Organizations, PhD, University of Warwick.

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