V.1. EPC event report
Europe in the world: The role of culture and soft power
8 December 2011
Some would argue that Europe is going down the drain amid growing bureaucracy and rising Euroscepticism, said Ana Paula Laborinho, president of EUNIC, an EU-wide network of national institutes for culture.
“Politics mustn’t just focus on short-term needs. It needs to take a long-term view based on values,” argued Laborinho, who is a professor at the University of Lisbon.
The EU is based on values related to democracy, human rights, multilateralism and its international societies. But many Americans and Chinese know nothing about the EU’s achievements, the academic said.
“How can Europe spell out what it stands for, and show that it isn’t just all talk and no action?” she asked. “Cultural diplomacy is the cornerstone of this because it builds trust,” she said.
“The EU is deeply preoccupied with its own crisis at a time when the Arab World is experiencing democracy for the first time and looking to Europe for inspiration,” Laborinho said.
“How is Europe viewed in the world? The European External Action Service (EEAS) has come at the right time to show what Europe has to offer during this difficult period,” she added, urging EU diplomats to “revitalise cultural diplomacy with a multilateral approach”.
“Now is the time to talk specifically about the role of culture in the EU’s external policy. Culture is conspicuously absent from the EEAS but it’s probably the EU’s biggest brand,” said Wolfgang Petritsch, Austria’s Ambassador to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) in Paris.
“The EU prides itself on being the world’s foremost soft power, so why isn’t culture the positive expression of this?” Petritsch wondered.
“Cultural diplomacy is vibrant and diverse at member-state level, but it follows nation-state logic. We must do the same at EU level and boost the role of culture in the EU’s external relations,” he argued.
“’More Europe’ is a paradoxical title which some people see as crazy in the current context. But citizens really want a strong Europe. Europe is changing, and people want their continent to have a face,” argued Gottfried Wagner, a researcher at the Austrian Ministry of Education and Culture.
He spoke out in favour of “cultural relations and listening” rather than cultural diplomacy.
“If European culture means great art, literature, remembering the past, cutting-edge theatre and Internet innovation, then we have loads of that. But if we’re talking about mainstream culture, like the films, video games and music that our kids watch, play and listen to, then we don’t have it,” said Frédéric C. Martel, a sociologist, researcher, journalist and writer.
“I don’t trust conventional wisdom, and it’s my duty to be a watchdog and a whistleblower. The cultural sector tends to be self-reverential. But people are interested in the commoditised world of the USA: yes, even here in Europe!” said Yudhishthir Raj Isar, professor of cultural policy studies at the American University of Paris.
“Cultural diplomacy is instrumental in furthering the interests of nation states. So don’t presume everyone wants [cultural diplomacy at EU level]. Europeans are very concerned about national sovereignty,” Isar said, questioning the existence of widespread support among citizens for EU cultural diplomacy.
Pledging to bring the discussion “back down to earth,” Pierre Vimont, the executive secretary-general of the European External Action Service, warned that “we must be realistic when talking about Europe and culture: it’s very difficult for people who work for the EU to talk about culture, because national diplomats see it as their territory”.
Historically, EU legislation in the field of culture has tended to focus on regulating cultural industries rather than on culture as such, because that was the only scope for action, the EEAS official recalled.
He said three crucial things were missing from the European Commission’s delegations abroad, which are soon to become offices of the EEAS: military attachés, consuls and cultural attachés.
To establish the EEAS, “we’ll need to create the EU culture part,” said Vimont. “In the past, EU cultural policy has been very nice but lacking in ambition,” he added.
But he was realistic about the constraints under which the nascent EEAS would have to work.
“We can’t come out and demand more money for culture when there are so many other priorities. But we must fight,” said Vimont, recalling how his experiences living outside Europe had helped him to understand “what being European is all about”.
“If we want to show more ambition, we’ll all have to get out of our little boxes and work together: the EU institutions, member states and civil society,” he declared.
“This is what the EEAS is all about and it’s a daily fight. Because Brussels has never been about working like that. Brussels is Commission vs. Council and DG vs. DG, so changing attitudes is going to be very difficult: it’ll take years,” the EEAS official concluded.