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International cultural relations

Pins in the shape of the EU flag on a globe

In line with the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, the European Union (EU) is committed to promoting Europe’s diverse culture in its international relations. The EU is party to the 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, the main  legislation in this area.

Since 2007, promoting culture as a vital element in EU international relations has been one of the three main objectives of the European Agenda for Culture. This dedication was renewed as part of the 2018 New European Agenda for Culture.

The EU’s external strategy for culture

In order to devise an effective strategy for cultural relations, the Commission has

  • carried out a large-scale mapping and consultation process in across 54 countries in the context of the ‘Culture in EU External Relations’ Preparatory Action, with support from cultural institutes and organisations. This led to a series of country reports and final report and recommendations on how to develop the strategic approach to culture at EU level.
  • consulted key stakeholders on the added value, possible objectives and principles underpinning a more strategic approach to culture in the Union's external relations

This prepared the ground to publish the Joint Communication 'Towards an EU strategy for international cultural relations', the cornerstone of the EU’s international cultural cooperation. The strategy has three main objectives:

1. Unlocking the potential of culture and creativity for sustainable social and economic development

Culture is a source of inclusive growth and job creation and the global trade in creative products has continued to expand in recent years, despite economic uncertainty.

2. Promoting peace and fighting radicalisation through intercultural dialogue

Intercultural dialogue can build and promote understanding within and between societies. It helps to demonstrate the value of cultural diversity and human rights.

3. Strengthening cooperation on cultural heritage

Cultural heritage is an important expression of cultural diversity that deserves protection. The EU can play an important role in the safeguarding of cultural heritage around the world by providing training, skills development and knowledge transfer activities to partner countries.

The engagement of all stakeholders in the new strategy is key to its success and they play an active role. The stakeholders are

  • governments from partner countries
  • local cultural organisations and civil society
  • the Commission
  • the European External Action Service
  • the European Parliament
  • other EU Institutions
  • EU Member States and their cultural institutes 

Inspired by this framework, various actors have called for a strategic approach to culture in the EU's external relations

Regional cooperation

The EU fosters cultural cooperation and policy dialogue with countries outside the EU through regional groups, international organisations and bespoke relationships with individual countries.

Candidate and potential candidate countries

The EU's Creative Europe Programme supports Europe's cultural and creative sectors. The entire region participates the in the Culture sub-programme of Creative Europe.

The Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) supports the Western Balkans in their preparation for EU accession and facilitates cross-border cooperation, combining bilateral and regional support. Examples of actions under this instrument include the dedicated Call for cultural cooperation projects with the Western Balkans and joint fight against trafficking of cultural goods in the Western Balkans,  jointly implemented by the EU and UNESCO.

The Technical Assistance and Information Exchange (TAIEX) instrument and the Twinning programme.

Interreg B, which supports transnational cooperation. Three of its programmes cover partially the Western Balkans (ADRION, DANUBE and Balkan-Mediterranean).

European Neighbourhood Countries

Cultural cooperation is part of the EU's European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), covering the following countries: Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Egypt, Georgia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Moldova, Morocco, Palestine, Syria, Tunisia and Ukraine.

Cultural projects are funded under the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI).  This instrument includes bilateral, regional and cross-border cooperation programmes, the Technical Assistance and Information Exchange (TAIEX) Instrument, and the Twinning programme.

The EU's 2014-20 Creative Europe Programme developed collaboration by allowing  countries to fully participate, provided that the necessary conditions were fulfilled. Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, Tunisia and Ukraine became members of the programme.

Southern Partnership

The EU's relations with the region are guided by the European Consensus on Development the EU Global Strategy and the revised European Neighbourhood Policy. The Regional South Strategy Paper 2014-2020 lists building this partnership as one of its objectives, with specific emphasis on support for civil society and on enhanced opportunities for exchanges and people-to-people contacts, with a particular focus on youth. One of the priorities of the Regional South Multiannual Indicative Programme is building resilience and promoting stability, including culture and youth.

This led to the funding of a new programme to support youth and culture in the Southern Neighbourhood. The youth component promotes the active participation of young people in building inclusive and democratic societies though project SAFIR. The culture component support culture as a vector for employment, democratisation, tolerance, and resilience in the region. Prior to 2018, the Med-Culture regional programme accompanied 9 South Mediterranean partner countries in the development and improvement of cultural policies and practices related to the culture sector.

Eastern Partnership

The EU's Eastern Partnership provides a framework for cultural cooperation under the multilateral Platform 4 "Contacts between people".

The EU4Culture Programme aims to strengthen links between culture, economic growth and the promotion of intercultural dialogue and experiences.

The Eastern Partnership Culture Programme supported the partners' cultural policy reform efforts at government level and helped to improve the professionalism of operators in the cultural and creative sectors. In addition to its capacity building activities, the Programme has supported numerous projects with a focus on cultural policy reform.

Developing countries

A product of the UN 2030 Agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim at making sustainable development a reality for everyone.  Culture contributes to several SDGs; by acting as both an enabler and an important component in human development, culture can contribute to

  • economic growth and the creation of jobs
  • promoting intercultural dialogue
  • respect for human rights and democratic values
  • the development of an active civil society
  • the prevention of conflict
  • social inclusion

In line with its Consensus on Development, the EU has included activities in the field of culture in much of its development work. Under the Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020, the European Union has invested €300 million on actions developing cultural partnerships cooperation, particularly via the Development Cooperation Instrument, the European Neighbourhood Instrument, the European Development Fund and Horizon 2020. 

Recent projects target cultural heritage rehabilitation and tourism, promotion of job opportunities and skills development; support to cultural and creative industries and their governance for socio-economic development; intercultural dialogue, freedom of expressions and cultural rights for social cohesion, tolerance, citizenship, peace and stability.

Funding comes from programmes such as the new ACP-EU Culture programme “Toward a viable cultural industry” (€40 million), CREATIFI - Creative Industry Financing initiative (€20 million), TransCultura, a programme for cooperation on cultural heritage in the Caribbean (€15 million) and others.

The international colloquium “Culture for the Future”, organised by the European Commission on 16-18 of June 2019 in Brussels, saw the adoption of the "Manifesto Culture for the Future - A vision of creativity, innovation & dialogue for inclusive development”.

Strategic partners

In addition, the EU has 10 strategic partnerships: Brazil, Canada, China, India, Mexico, Japan, the Republic of Korea (South Korea), Russia, South Africa, and the US.

South Korea

The EU-Korea Protocol on Cultural Cooperation was concluded in 2009 within the framework of the EU-Korea Free Trade Agreement. The Protocol sets a framework within which the two Parties shall cooperate to facilitate exchange in cultural activities, goods and services, including in the audio-visual sector, and to improve the conditions governing such exchanges.

Under the Protocol, the EU and Korea have established a Committee on Cultural Cooperation to oversee its implementation. Meetings are held once a year in the EU and Korea alternatively and have focused on cooperation in the field of performing arts (EU guest of honour in the Performing Arts Market Seoul 2018), architecture (Young Talent Architecture Award), city-to-city cooperation (European Capitals of Culture), cultural heritage, and the audio-visual sector.

China

Cooperation with China in the field of culture has been organised mainly under the High-Level People to People Dialogue. The latest edition of this dialogue in 2017 included a Forum on the Cooperation between European Capitals of Culture (ECoC) and Cultural Cities of East Asia (CCEA), based on an EU study.

Other initiatives with China include

  • the EU-China Trade project II, which supported policy dialogue on cultural and creative industries through the exchange of best practices
  • A Joint Mapping of the EU-China Cultural and Creative Landscape

International organisations

UNESCO

The EU and all its Member States are parties to the 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. The Convention serves as a framework for EU policy on culture in its external relations, including trade and development cooperation.

The EU and UNESCO issued a joint statement reaffirming shared values including respect for human dignity and rights, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and, above all, the right to freedom of expression. UNESCO was an active partner for the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018 and is currently implementing several EU projects in the cultural heritage field.    

Council of Europe

The Council of Europe is an important international partner for the EU, particularly in the cultural heritage sector. The Council of Europe was also an active partner for the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018. Ongoing joint projects include “The Faro Way: enhanced participation in cultural heritage”, which promotes the principles of the Council of Europe Framework Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society (Faro Convention, 2005) and the European Heritage Days.

Culture and trade

The Commission ensures that cultural aspects are taken into account in all EU’s multilateral and bilateral trade negotiations and that audio-visual services are excluded from any such negotiations. For example, the EU has concluded the Protocol on Cultural Cooperation  within the framework of the EU-CARIFORUM Economic Partnership Agreement. The Protocol aims to further promote cultural and audio-visual exchanges within specific cooperation frameworks, in line with key provisions of the UNESCO Convention (Article 16 on preferential treatment for developing countries' artists, cultural goods and services). The European Commission supports cultural and audio-visual projects with non-EU countries through its Creative Europe Programme.

Transversal initiatives EU-led cultural platforms and awards

European Spaces of Culture preparatory actions are implemented by EUNIC (EU National Institutes for Culture), aiming to identify innovative collaboration models between European and local actors in third countries, supporting cultural projects relevant to the local context. For example, the project ‘The Grid’ in the USA is a cooperation of EUNIC Silicon Valley, the EU Delegation in Washington D.C. and several partners. The Grid incorporates art thinking into the development of new technologies and jump-starts a conversation between artists, technologists, and policy makers from Europe, Silicon Valley and beyond. The Urban Cult Lab'Africa brings six fab labs – digital fabrication laboratories – in West Africa together to co-design cultural events including artists’ residencies, live events and exhibitions.

An EU Cultural Diplomacy Platform was set up to provide advice on external cultural policy, facilitate networking, carry out activities with cultural stakeholders and develop training programmes for cultural leadership. Based on the four years experience with the Cultural Diplomacy Platform, a Cultural Relations Platform with global reach was launched in April 2020. It was implemented by a consortium led by the Goethe Institute together with IETM - International network for contemporary performing arts, the Sienna University and the European Cultural Foundation.

The Young Talent Architecture Awards (YTAA) is implemented by the Mies van der Rohe Foundation with the support of Creative Europe and it welcomes the participation of certain Asian and Latin-American countries. The Award recognises the talent of recently graduated architects, urbanists and landscape architects, and facilitates their interaction with the sector’s main stakeholders in Europe.

Finally, the EU's Delegations and Offices are crucial partners in building cooperation and partnerships with cultural stakeholders in the countries they are based.   EU Delegations can help identify local needs and opportunities, ensuring that actions fit with local cultural contexts, as well as and engage the local population while simultaneously serving the EU's strategic objectives. Cultural focal points in EU Delegations are receiving training on the cultural dimension of development and external relations to better disseminate best practices. 

The future Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) will be the EU’s main financial tool to contribute to eradicating poverty and promoting sustainable development, prosperity, peace and stability for 2021-27 and will include support to the cultural and creative sectors.

The Creative Europe programme, the only EU programme exclusively focused on supporting of the cultural and creative sectors, will be open to a certain extent to cooperation with third countries in 2021-27.

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