Maltese Presidency's Culture Conference: Cultural Diplomacy: Fostering International Cultural Dialogue, Diversity and Sustainability"

Malta, 9 March 2017

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Dear Ministers,

Ladies and gentlemen,


I would like to thank our Maltese hosts for their warm hospitality. Yesterday's visit to the Maritime Museum was an excellent opportunity to appreciate the richness of this country's history and culture. So were my visits to St John's Co-Cathedral and the Valetta 2018 MUZA project, for which I would like to personally thank Minister Bonnici.

International cultural relations are very high on the EU agenda. Especially so since the adoption of our Joint Communication on culture in international relations in June 2016. The Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy also highlights cultural diplomacy as a new field for our external action. I want to go one step further: culture must be at the heart of the EU external relations.

Culture has a vital role in tackling the big societal challenges facing us today. In particular, it helps us learn about and understand each other, regardless of our backgrounds. This is proven by our international partners who – regardless of our relations in other fields – are always interested in establishing closer cultural ties with us and in strengthening those that already exist.

But there are two conditions for building strong connections through culture: one is reciprocity, and the other is that we work together towards the same goals.

We need to move away from the more traditional forms of cultural diplomacy and instead develop an attitude of dialogue, mutual listening and learning. We need to privilege co-creation on an equal footing with partner countries. And we should never forget that diversity is what makes us strong.

Indeed, these are the key points of the Joint Communication "Towards an EU strategy for international cultural relations" that I presented last year in June, together with the High Representative for the Union's Foreign and Security Policy, Ms Federica Mogherini.

The three main objectives of this initiative are reflected in the themes of the three sessions of today's conference: supporting culture as an engine for sustainable social and economic development, promoting culture and intercultural dialogue for peaceful inter-community relations, and reinforcing cooperation on cultural heritage.

The latter is all the more important since 2018 will be the European Year of Cultural Heritage. I would like to thank the Maltese presidency for their role in helping to conclude the negotiations on the legal base of the Year.

The European Year will be an opportunity to celebrate the past. But it will also give us a unique chance to reflect on the future of our heritage and of our relation to it, including its role in fostering inter-cultural dialogue.

Already at the end of this month, at a first G7 meeting on culture, ministers will discuss which international mechanisms we can use to protect endangered cultural heritage. This will include the fight against illicit traffic in cultural goods.

Across the three strands, we are working to bring the approach set out in the Joint Communication to life. Let me give you some examples:

  • We have set up a cultural diplomacy platform. The aim is to work with cultural stakeholders in developing international cultural relations, but also to encourage networking and develop training. The first training on global cultural leadership took place here in Malta last October; and a second one is coming up next June, in Athens.

  • We have established a network of young creative entrepreneurs worldwide, which already has over 1000 members.

  • With the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, we are supporting cultural and creative clusters in the Southern Mediterranean region, mainly through training and capacity-building.

  • We also support creative hubs across Europe in networking, cross-sector cooperation and capacity-building. Thanks to our main partner in this - the British Council - the projects also cover the Middle East. Today’s session on the socio-economic dimension of culture will certainly provide useful insights into how creative hubs and clusters can help to drive sustainable growth.

  • To promote intercultural dialogue in post-conflict areas and fragile democracies, we will launch a new scheme to support cooperation with civil society and local authorities. Artists, creative practitioners and civil society are key players here. By working together with EU national cultural institutes and local authorities, they can create a space open to all where cultural exchanges and creative partnerships can take place.

  • And for next year, we are preparing two new schemes: first, a repository of films produced in the EU supporting EU Film Festivals that our delegations organise across the globe, and second, networks of alumni of our different programmes in third countries. They are often among the best and the brightest, and they can also be the best ambassadors of our values. We have learned this from the Erasmus programme, which this year celebrates its 30th anniversary.

    This approach works because we mobilise all players, at all levels. Indeed, only by working together and by pooling our strengths and resources we can reach our goals.

    Let me be clear on this point. This is not about replacing what Member States have been doing well for many years. This is about identifying the areas where a joint approach can bring more benefits than the simple sum of bilateral initiatives.

    Good examples exist. I will mention one from just a few miles away. Across the sea in Tunisia, the EU Delegation is helping the Tunisian cultural sector to develop. It is using a EUR 6 million scheme to do so, in close cooperation and consultation with the Tunisian Ministry of Culture and in partnership with the local EUNIC cluster.

    This is an interesting model in many respects. First, it is a good example of a relationship with a partner country that is based on dialogue – on listening first of all – and the joint development of actions.

    Second, it is a good example of several national cultural institutes working together. And third, it is a good example of the "facilitating" role that the EU can and should play to enable bottom-up approaches.

    This is the European added value that we want to pursue. This is what makes us more attractive to our partners. This is what brings benefits to everyone involved.

    Ladies and gentlemen,

    I am very pleased that the Maltese presidency has decided to develop Council Conclusions on this topic. A fully-fledged strategy for the EU's international cultural engagement can only take shape if Member States are strongly committed to it.

    I fully trust that this conference will produce a wealth of useful suggestions that will help us make the most of our best assets: our diversity, our unity, our culture.