Hearing organised by the European Commission on the on-line consultation on the upcoming EU- “Communication” on culture and Europe, 4 December, 2006
This summary report reflects the understanding of the author and does not claim completeness or correctness in all details. See also the website of the Commission.
President Barroso and the DG Education and Culture seem to be firmly committed to take concrete steps to develop a truly political cultural agenda for the EU. They used the term “cultural policies” several times, with a clear reference to needs assessment by the cultural sector and the challenges which Europe is facing.
The on-line consultation (with some 500 respondents, organisations and individuals from the sector, NPOs as well as cultural industries) was summarised and will – as a statement from the cultural civil society - underpin the “Communication”. The leitmotif of the Commissions presentation was “we unite people” (not only states).
The core content of the “Communication” seems to develop alongside three issues:
1. The political relevance of culture for belonging to Europe, “identity” in the context of (multiple) citizenship and cultural diversity
2. The economic relevance of culture and creativity for the economic project Europe (with a clear understanding that arts and culture are values in itself and against instrumentalisation)
3. Policy making and participation in “variable geometries”: New forms of dialogue with the wider sector (“Agora” plans of structured gatherings of public and third sector actors), new forms of interdepartmental cooperation within the Commission (a formalised “Task Force” to implement the transversal paragraph in article 151/4 of the Maastricht Treaty), new and more flexible instruments with impact (e.g. mobility).
The “Communication” will be presented and discussed both during the German and the Portuguese presidency in 2007. The Council of heads of states will be addressed as well as a large pan European audience in a wide debate. It will be presented for a full inter-service consultation. The Commission considers a cultural agenda (or even a cultural policy) as a necessity, not a luxury, and wants to implement it practically with a realistic time frame. It can be expected that the 50 years´ anniversary celebration of the Rome Treaty will also include statements on Europe as a cultural project.
Major attention was paid to the dialogue needed to achieve the policy goals. Many relevant contributions were made by the participants (e.g. on the importance of art and education, on the neighbourhood of the EU, on balancing public responsibilities for culture and competitiveness, on the role of cities, on the equality in access to culture, on diversity policies and Intercultural Dialogue, on the implementation of the UNESCO convention, on the bureaucratic structures to implement the EU programmes, on tax-, social security and copyright issues etc). Recurrent observations were made on the growing importance of culture and the declining (and yet marginal) means available on European level.
The dialogue will have to be developed in close interaction with the grassroots. Who “represents” the sector? Which role for intermediaries? How to include other sectors related to the cultural agenda (e.g. social), how to be inclusive? (The Civil Society Platform for Intercultural Dialogue was mentioned several times by Commission officials.)
President Barroso gave a speech in which he stated that the future of Europe depended to a large extent on culture. Identities became blurred, the sense of belonging needs new concepts of (multiple) citizenship and identity which are not spelled out “against…”. He called for an open and critical debate which would inform the process of composing the “Communication” towards a cultural agenda, “if not policies”. He pointed at the current (legal) instruments which were sufficient if effective partnerships would help to develop the policy orientation, imaginative ways of cooperation and sharing of priorities with the civil society. Formal constraints should not be the major concern, if there was broad political will. The policy development was in support of subsidiarity and the cultural nature of the project Europe.
Mr Barroso was then addressed by Jacques De Decker, Gottfried Wagner and Stef Coninx, who highlighted some issues from the point of view of artists and intellectuals, civil society organisations and creative industries, and answered their questions, e.g. on the role of Europe in actively shaping globalisation. I stressed, among other arguments, the “assets” of Europe, learned also through our history of failures: having developed and developing a “mutual acceptance of difference in respect, a treasure of cultural diversity, and emerging realities of multiple citizenship”. I then reminded him on the gap between means and instruments, and asked e.g. for the hoped for outcomes of the 2008 year of Intercultural Dialogue (will there be standards developed, and ways to report on them?) I cast some doubts on the concept of “bringing Europe closer to its citizens” – stating that “we are Europe; we need to take political stances and responsibilities, certainly also in the cultural sector” which has – as many participants stressed - genuine tools, images and an authentic and critical language at its disposal that is so often missed in policy discourses.
4 December 2006