Conference "Culture and development: towards a more strategic approach to cultural policies in the EU's external relations" organised by Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the European Union
3 September 2015
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Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to be here and to have the opportunity to share my views on the role of culture in EU foreign relations and development policy.
The mandate given to this European Commission in foreign policy is clear: It calls for a stronger Europe. We need to put better mechanisms in place to anticipate events early and to swiftly identify common responses – based on respect for our fundamental values: human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and human rights.
International cultural relations
International cultural relations are part of this task. And here we are witnessing a real paradigm shift. "Cultural diplomacy" is moving away from merely showcasing the excellence of a country. Instead, it is becoming a process of mutual learning and "co-creation" based on equal partnerships.
I believe this is the direction we need to take if we want to live in an inclusive, tolerant society where every citizen is valued. It is also necessary to reflect important societal changes: Globalisation and digital technologies are changing the way states and citizens interact. Civil society is taking on new roles. And direct exchanges between people – mainly in the fields of culture, education and youth – play a growing role in shaping all these relationships.
We have experience in promoting culture in Europe's international relations thanks to our recent Preparatory Action which covered the Neighbourhood countries. We have seen that there is considerable potential for culture in Europe’s external relations. And we have learnt that many people across the world have a strong interest in engaging culturally with Europe.
This calls for a more strategic and concerted approach to cultural relations with partner countries. Cultural diplomacy is a hidden gem in Europe's external relations – we need to use it to much greater effect.
That is why, together with High Representative / Vice-President Federica Mogherini, I am reflecting on how to put in place a European strategy for cultural diplomacy that will deepen and enhance our external-relations policy. We believe that a modern and forward-looking cultural diplomacy will complement the political dialogue and economic cooperation that form the central pillars of EU foreign policy.
We must not limit ourselves to simply presenting European cultures to others. EU cultural diplomacy needs to go further. We need to build long-term relationships based on trust and credibility.
How do we best achieve this? I believe the answer lies in cultural and educational exchanges. Because it is through these direct contacts and the relationships they help to build between people and civil-society organisations that we best share our fundamental values and ideas.
Culture and development
Culture has also been an integral part of the EU's work for sustainable development and of our commitment to the Millennium Development Goals.
Culture can help boost and diversify local economies. The whole range of activities related to creation, cultural heritage management, the production and distribution of cultural goods and services are important sources of employment and revenue creation.
And culture has a crucial role to play in fostering citizenship, good governance and democratisation. It is a powerful catalyst in post-conflict management.
We need to ensure culture can play this role to full effect. And our experience over the past years has helped us to learn some important lessons: that we should focus on boosting the capacity of local cultural sectors and facilitate South-South cooperation.
First, we have understood that policies and support instruments need to be determined locally. They need to take into account local specificities and assets and to tap into local resources. Indeed, ownership by the partner countries is a must.
Second, investing in culture is especially meaningful when it is part of an integrated approach and a broader development strategy at national or regional level, instead of being looked at as a singular goal. And combining 'hard' investments, for example in infrastructure, with 'soft' ones, in human capital and skills, can be a good way of ensuring sustainability.
Finally, governance needs to be shared across multiple levels. This helps ensure an appropriate connection between different policy and administration levels. Both public and private stakeholders must be involved in the process.
Let me conclude with a few remarks on cultural heritage.
The EU is committed to the preservation of cultural heritage. This is a vital part of our effort to nurture awareness of the role each community of people has played in the history of human kind.
Recent events where we have seen abhorrent destruction and looting in Syria, for example, are stark reminders that we cannot take the survival of the world's cultural heritage for granted. We need to act to preserve and protect it.
The Commission is working to make sure that we better enforce the prohibition of trade in certain cultural goods from Iraq and Syria. We are also considering putting forward legislation that would regulate the import of cultural goods into the EU. As a first step, we will launch a study on gaps in national legislations in this area in 2016.
The EU also funds the International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods, a collaborative platform designed by the International Council of Museums.
And, together with the European External Action Service, the Commission is exploring ways to intensify our cooperation with organisations working for the preservation of cultural heritage.
We must do everything in our power to protect cultural heritage from pillage and destruction.
I am glad that many of these issues will be discussed during this conference. I am convinced your debates will feed into our reflections on how to design a fully-fledged "cultural diplomacy" at EU level. A cultural diplomacy that will benefit the EU - and our partners across the world.