Encouraging diversity, promoting culture as an agent of growth and incorporating it into our relations with the world – these are the three goals of the EU's new "European culture agenda". Endorsed last year by governments and cultural bodies during a broad public consultation exercise, the strategy was officially rolled out this week.
As a signatory to the UNESCO convention on cultural expression, the EU is committed to promoting diversity and dialogue between different peoples, both within its borders and beyond. With the new strategy, it intends to incorporate culture into its political relations with partner countries as well as its development programmes. For example, it is proposing to create an EU-ACP cultural fund worth €30m, to support culture in a range of African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.
Culture must also be encouraged as a driver of creativity. Did you know, for instance, that the culture sector generates more wealth for Europe than its chemical industry? In 2003, an EU study revealed that this sector employed almost 6 million Europeans, over 3% of the bloc's population at the time. It also boosts the development of new information and communication technologies, stimulates tourism and helps regenerate underdeveloped or disadvantaged areas.
The EU is proposing that its member countries implement the culture strategy using a flexible method known as open coordination. This allows countries to assess each other's performance and share best practice, while keeping their powers in this field.
While this is the very first European strategy for culture, Europe is already very active in this field, through new programmes like Culture 2007 and Europe for citizens and the more familiar MEDIA programme and structural funds.