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European Commission - Fact Sheet

A new strategy to put culture at the heart of EU international relations

Brussels, 23 May 2017

Questions and answers

Why has the Commission adopted an EU Strategy for international cultural relations?

In a fast-changing, inter-connected world, cultural relations offer a unique opportunity for improving relations with EU partner countries. Culture is a valuable resource to tackle many of the challenges Europe and the world are currently facing – such as the integration of refugees and migrants, countering violent radicalisation and the protection of cultural heritage.

The potential of the cultural and creative sectors and the economic benefits of cultural exchanges also need to be tapped into to contribute to inclusive growth and job creation in the EU and its partner countries.

Several parties - Member States, the European Parliament and civil society – have called on the High Representative and the European Commission to develop a strategic vision to advance international cultural relations. The call to draw up such a strategy is also underpinned by the Preparatory Action on Culture in EU External Relations, which highlighted the need to implement a new model of cultural cooperation, based on co-operation and peer-to-peer learning.

The global context makes the call for the development of an EU strategy only stronger. Increased cultural cooperation and direct contacts and exchanges between people will contribute to making the EU a stronger global actor, in line with the ninth priority outlined by President Jean-Claude Juncker, reflecting the ambition of the EU's Global Strategy.

What are the main objectives of the new strategy?

The EU strategy for international cultural relations will focus on three main objectives:

  • Supporting culture as an engine for social and economic development

The economic benefits of cultural exchanges are too often overlooked. Global trade in creative products has more than doubled between 2004 and 2013, despite the global recession. Culture is a central element in the new economy driven by creativity, innovation, digital dimension and access to knowledge. Cultural and creative industries represent around 3% of global GDP and 30 million jobs. In the EU alone these industries account for more than 7 million jobs. In developing countries, UNESCO's Culture for Development Indicators (CDIS) show that culture contributes 1.5% to 5.7% of GDP in low and middle-income countries.

The available data both in developing and developed countries indicate that the cultural sectors may account, depending on the country and scope, for 2% and 7% of GDP respectively, which is more than many other traditional industrial sectors.

The EU strategy for international cultural relations should therefore also become a strategy for inclusive growth and job creation.

  • Promoting intercultural dialogue and the role of culture for peaceful inter-community relations

Inter-cultural dialogue, including inter-religious dialogue, is a key tool in promoting the building of fair, peaceful and inclusive societies as well as the value of cultural diversity and respect for human rights. It establishes common ground and a favourable environment for further exchanges.

Inter-cultural dialogue will be promoted through cooperation between cultural operators; peace-building cultural activities; exchanges between young people, students, researchers, scientists and alumni; as well as through cooperation on the protection of cultural heritage.

  • Reinforcing cooperation on cultural heritage

Cultural heritage is an important manifestation of cultural diversity that needs to be protected. Rehabilitating and promoting cultural heritage attracts tourism and boosts economic growth. There are many opportunities for joint action with partner countries to develop sustainable strategies for heritage protection through training, skills development and knowledge transfer.

The EU already supports research and innovation in the field of cultural heritage, notably in the framework of the Horizon 2020 programme. The Commission will further contribute to international efforts for the protection of cultural heritage sites and will adopt in July a regulation on the import into the EU of cultural goods in order to combat illicit trafficking. Cultural heritage will be at the core of the EU cultural strategy next year, when we will be celebrating the European Year of Cultural Heritage. A series of initiatives are being prepared in this framework.

What is the assessment you can make of the new EU strategy for international cultural relations one year after its launching and how is it being implemented? What is the Member States' role in the implementation?

The strategy has been accepted with widespread support by cultural organisations and other stakeholders as well as governments. EU Delegations around the world have intensified their activities in developing new cultural projects. Stronger attention is being paid to culture in the definition of EU programmes in general, above all for what concerns its new approach relying culture to economic growth.

The success of the new approach relies on the principle that all stakeholders join forces. Complementarity and synergies between all main players – governments from partner countries at all levels, local cultural organisations and civil society, the Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS), EU Member States, and their cultural institutes - are essential.

For the implementation of the Strategy for international cultural relations, the EU can count on its 139 Delegations and Offices operating around the world, which already carry out an enormous number of cultural activities in their host countries. The EU Delegations are now fully playing their role of enabler and encourage synergies and cooperation between national cultural institutes and foundations, and private and public enterprises worldwide. To facilitate their actions, a working arrangement has been signed by the Commission and the EEAS with EUNIC, the umbrella organisation of national cultural institutes. This will further enhance joint actions with Member States on culture.

The Culture Council on 23 May 2017 further decided to establish a Friends of Presidency group that will tackle cultural issues in different Council formations. This will be an important tool to mainstream culture in other fields of activities of the EU and to flag its importance at different levels of institutions and society.

The EU Cultural Diplomacy Platform funded under the Partnership Instrument and operated by a consortium of Member States' Cultural Institutes, is continuing its work, among many actions, with the development of an internet platform, the organisation of trainings and webinars, the creation of networks, the consultations of EU Delegations on their priorities in cultural projects in order to support them with concrete actions, such as providing curators for important EU cultural events.

Further cultural diplomacy actions are foreseen in 2017 under the Partnership Instrument that will facilitate the organisation of European Film Festivals across the world creating a repository of European Films accessible to all EU Delegations.

Could you give concrete examples of projects to be carried out under the new Strategy?

- The Ethical Fashion project run by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), in cooperation with the Commission, is providing working opportunities to thousands of craftsmen in West Africa. They are being hired by world-wide fashion brands in the confection of textiles. This is not only an opportunity for sustainable development but also a means to address root causes of economic migration and allow African countries to preserve their manpower.

- In Mali, the EU is contributing with UNESCO to the restauration of the Timbuktu cultural heritage including the preservation of ancient manuscripts that were lost or damaged in northern regions of Mali following the conflict. While restoring the local population's cultural heritage, this project contributes to reconciliation and peace in the wider region.* 

-The EU seeks to reinforce of the socio-economic impact of cultural and creative industries in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, covering the whole value chain. For example, in Vanuatu and Mozambique, "Music Bridges" strengthen the creation and production of music and intercultural dialogue for the promotion of cultural diversity; in Niger the support to traditional earth architecture created innovative and dynamic public-private partnerships; in Ivory Coast the EU support to the film "Run" allowed to boost the country's film industry and to contribute to the national reconciliation debate in a country marked by civil war.*

- In Tunisia, the Commission is further expanding the Creative Europe Programme. This will offer Tunisian cultural operators the opportunity to finance their projects through EU funding. In support, France and Wallonia have launched bilateral twinning projects for the reinforcement of the Culture Ministry. EUNIC is involved in a €6 million programme in the framework of the European neighbourhood instrument, revamping cultural centres. €10 million from the MEDIA programme has been allocated to projects in Tunisia. Also, the EU Delegation has contributed to the opening of the first Tunisian Pavilion at the Biennale of Venice in cooperation with the Tunisian government and the Tunisian Foundation Kamel Lazaar.  

- In the Eastern Partnership (EaP), the "EaP Culture Programme Phase II" is supporting the cultural and creative sectors' contribution to sustainable humanitarian, social and economic development. Under this programme the "Community-Led Urban Strategies in Historic Towns" project seeks to stimulate social and economic development by enhancing cultural heritage in 9 historic towns in Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine.

- In 2017-2018, support to EU Delegations will be provided by the platform to organise the Atelier of Festival and Cultural managers in China, the EU-Asia Capitals of Culture, the Delhi International Book Fair where the EU will be the guest of honour in India and to European heritage and visual arts in Brazil.

For More Information:

Communication on international cultural relations

Press release on the Communication


*Figure corrected on 29/05/2017 at 17:40

*Figure corrected on 29/05/2017 at 17:40


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