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How Barroso’s ‘New Narrative’ can change the discourse of the EU by By Klaus Bondam

25/09/2013

Summary

The conclusions along with President Barroso’s New Narrative are that unity in diversity was never a good branding strategy for external relations – how are you as third country supposed to enter a market of that many different agendas and cultures? Consequently, the New Narrative for Europe is not just internal cultural integration moving the different cultures closer together in the representation of a new narrative, but is equally making culture in EU’s external relations easier to access and enter dialogue.

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“(…) A new narrative for Europe not because we don’t remain loyal to the raison d’être of the European community and the European Union; of course this remains valid. But because I think we need, in the beginning of the XXI century, namely for the new generation that is not so much identified with this narrative of Europe, to continue to tell the story of Europe (…)”
President Barroso, launch of New Narrative for Europe, 23rd April 2013.

The conclusions along with President Barroso’s New Narrative are that unity in diversity was never a good branding strategy for external relations – how are you as third country supposed to enter a market of that many different agendas and cultures? Consequently, the New Narrative for Europe is not just internal cultural integration moving the different cultures closer together in the representation of a new narrative, but is equally making culture in EU’s external relations easier to access and enter dialogue.

The European Union needs a new story to tell. President Barroso argues that the need for modernisation of narrative is based on the non-identification among the new generations towards the EU and Europe. They do not feel they are a part of the on-going story reflected at the European level about peace and economic stability. Instead, they are more associated with fragmented agendas, which take place in their local and international communities, which hardly can be linked to the grand narrative of the EU and no added value. This state of unity in diversity represents the leading discourse and approach to the EU throughout the previous decades: the Member States cultivated their own cultural agenda, and at the end of the day EU framed it as the “multicultural richness” of Europe.

When Barroso stresses the need for a new narrative for Europe, he actually acknowledges the existence of a current narrative. Barroso’s reasoning is perhaps not so much about modernising a narrative but instead creating a sense of an actual narrative of the EU: An identification. A homogeneous story. A feeling. A culture. A narrative about the unknown quantity, which the EU so deeply is in search for in order to be able to keep the wheels going and ensure the future support to the project. Indeed, the idea of re-building the EU is not a bad idea and instead of having economics as the building blocks, culture is now the starting point as Jean Monnet so cleverly suggested. And instead of government-to-government diplomacy the need for public diplomacy with people-to-people interaction has been acknowledged.

“When a political and diplomatic crisis has developed between two countries, culture is the bridge builder on the way to mutual understanding. That is why culture is becoming the new politics.” So stresses Namita Gokhale, the Indian writer. The pre-dominant comprehension that culture is the icing on the cake, and in that sense disconnected from high political agendas in a society, is gone. There has been a shift in paradigm as Gokhale points out, where cultural diplomacy as an instrument of soft power is more used than ever, where nations get what they want through attraction rather than coercion and over a long period of time building up good will in relations with other countries in order to get support for the presented policies (Joseph Nye). Where does this lead the EU?
There has been a shift in cultural diplomacy from originally elite-to-elite, then to elite-to-many (via mass-media) to the tendency today where the people-to-people diplomacy is adding a new layer to cultural relations[1]msw8. The New Narrative is in other words a more bottom-up initiative and more in line with the people-to-people diplomacy.

Culture in EU internal relations – but also external?

Launching the EU “version 2.0”, it calls for an update consisting of more cultural unity and of more people-to-people diplomacy. The EU needs to rearm internally and to be more in direct contact with the citizens to maintain their mandate to the Union, which the version 2.0 is the motor behind.

On a par with this agenda is the launch of a Preparatory Action by the European Commission, which aims to explore the potential of culture in EU external relations – and in line with the new discourse. To execute the action is a consortium of eight member-institutions lead by the Goethe Institute, BOZAR followed by British Council, Danish Cultural Institute, ECF, IFA, Institut francais and KEA European Affairs. The hidden agenda is not to seek any mandate from the Member States but to facilitate and support an on-going process of research, exchange of knowledge and public debate about the role of culture in EU’s external relations. It is a 2.0 process where the flow of information aims to be based on dialogue and online discussion with the broader public. The Preparatory Action – Culture in EU external relations moves in the same direction as cultural diplomacy, and seeks to engage cultural relations not only at government level but also at people-to-people level with 54 different countries. It is an important initiative for both internal and external relations and is working reciprocally and in the light of the new narrative for Europe.

The spill-over effects of the new narrative could be cultural integration[2]msw8; and it could be a much more precisely framed name for the EU towards the strategic partners in external relations. The use of cultural diplomacy to this extend arms the EU to enter the international arena without military power or economic superiority and build up external relations on basis of mutual understanding and attraction from third countries and strategic partners. However, the approach towards the new narrative for Europe is not just crafty and having a political agenda behind the words. The new narrative could exactly be what the EU needs in order to bring the full potential into play. The leading discourse in the field has for many years been dictated by the view of the Member States, saying that culture belongs in the frame of the Member States. In this archaic discourse, what is left for the EU is being a melting pot at the end that can contain the different aspects of culture, which the Member States provide and represent. The new narrative for Europe suggests an alternative and a counter-discourse, which empowers the EU to phrase ‘culture’. There is nothing exceptional about this: Nations and international organisations are more and more seeking to optimise their use of ‘soft power’ in international relations. It is often said that only when you understand culture, you understand policy as a whole.

Klaus Bondam is the director of the Danish Cultural Institute and former employment and integration mayor of Copenhagen.


[1]msw8 British Council’s recent report: “Influence and Attraction: Culture and the race for soft power in the 21st century”

[2]msw8 Cultural integration is understood as the move towards cultural unity in the light of the European narrative, which on a side note does not precludes the existence of national cultures alongside with the European.

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