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European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]


Member of the European Commission for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth

Having the world understand your culture is much greater security than another submarine

The Role of Culture in EU External Relations – Final Conference (Palais des Beaux-Arts)

Brussels, 7 April 2014

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to welcome participants from across the globe and experts in the field of culture in external relations. This no doubt bodes well for the coming days' discussions.

Allow me to start by thanking Mr Løkkegaard, who is with us today, and, through him, the European Parliament for their active interest in the question of culture and external relations. This Preparatory Action – which started in January 2013 – would not have been possible without the Parliament's support.

I have the pleasure to introduce the distinguished Consortium which has been assisting us with the implementation of the Preparatory Action. Their fantastic work has led to the preparation of this conference and what will be – I hope – a stimulating exchange here in the Bozar.

You will hear shortly more about the structure and scope of the Preparatory Action. I will suffice to say that this conference is the third and last stage of a long process of mapping and extensive consultation with stakeholders in the Member States and in a large number of partner countries of the European Union.

Your discussions and deliberations today and tomorrow will be fed directly into the recommendations which will feature in the final report of the Preparatory Action.

These recommendations should act as a springboard for future EU action on the role of culture in external relations.

I am confident that this preparatory work will take us closer to a joint understanding of what it means to put in place a strategic approach to culture in EU's external relations.

Developing a more active and dynamic role for European culture on the international scene has been one of my key priorities as European Commissioner for culture. I believe it should be a priority for the next Commission as well.

Allow me to take a few moments to explain why.

Cultural cooperation and cultural diplomacy offer the best opportunity to show the richness and diversity of one's culture to the world.

Establishing two-way, equal and productive dialogues with countries from outside the EU will benefit our mutual understanding, as well as open new opportunities for our cultural and creative sectors.

But beyond that, culture as an enabler of public diplomacy, is a way of sharing our values, such as respect for human rights, diversity and equality, the independence of culture, and, ultimately, the creation of an inclusive society.

In the EU, we are 'united in our diversity'. This is the measure of our ambition and our challenge to act together.

As I said at a seminar at Harvard University last month: 'Europe's soft power in the 21st century should be about taking our expertise in managing our own cultural diversity to the global stage. This should be our truly European approach to public diplomacy.'

Bilateral cultural relations between individual Member States and partner countries are and will remain very important. But Member States acting alone cannot achieve the same results.

The uniqueness of our efforts is that we are trying to cooperate in a political experiment by respecting our diversity and implementing solidarity.

I see the role of the EU as an enabler in this process, in addition to what the Member States may do, and not as an entity which should integrate all actions, frame them and say 'this is European culture'.

Developing a strategic approach to culture in the EU's external relations is a complex undertaking and a commitment for the long-term. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Pierre Vimont [Executive Secretary General, European External Action Service]

for his presence today and for his invaluable support to this on-going work. I turn at him to see how we can develop together a partnership that can provide the strategic framework in which culture can be an integral part of the EU's public diplomacy, as well as a meaningful area of cooperation with our partners across the world. I do not mean by that a 'top-down' approach, where administrators and policy-makers take the place of cultural agents and artists.

I rather mean a multi-layered framework enabling all stakeholders to contribute meaningfully: civil society actors to develop long-lasting cooperation with their counter-parts; the European cultural and creative sectors to access audiences abroad; and the EU and its Member States as a whole to underpin our shared values and our vision for global politics.

There is a lot of talk lately about a 'new narrative for Europe'. Indeed, the European narrative may have lost some of its resonance with European citizens, and perhaps in other regions of the world. The economic crisis has played its role in putting the European project to the test. We need to take another look at what the European Union means not only as economic, but also as social, and broadly cultural project. That is why, under the leadership of President Barroso, we have invited artists to help shape a new narrative for Europe.

I am convinced that the people that create and generate culture in Europe must actively seek a role in redefining a political vision of Europe through our shared values of diversity and solidarity.

I see in this a powerful message that the EU can transmit to the world when addressing geo-political crises and global affairs.

I cannot help remembering the words of J. William Fulbright – a staunch supporter of multilateralism – who said: 'In the long course of history, having people understand your thought is much greater security than another submarine.'

We, in the EU, have a long experience in bringing cultural actors together to exchange between themselves and cooperate. These exchanges are essential to the progress of inter-cultural dialogue.

They create the conditions for the development of grassroots initiatives. They help strengthen civil society.

We want to reinforce our cultural cooperation and expand the notion of 'cultural space of cooperation' beyond the EU's physical borders.

In this vein, our flagship Creative Europe programme is open to the participation of third countries, such as those in our immediate neighbourhood in the East and South.

Our resources are limited – we know this. We therefore need to concentrate our efforts on areas in which you, as experts in the field, see real potential for EU added-value.

Before concluding, I wish to mention, as my personal contribution to the debate you will have tomorrow, a couple of ideas, which I find particularly interesting. I single out these ideas because they demonstrate the possibilities that a joint strategic approach at EU level can open up in terms of efficiency, policy delivery and, ultimately, political common sense.

The first concerns the pooling of resources for smart complementarity. This is of the utmost urgency in times of economic constraint like those we are traversing.

Building on the EU's physical presence and high quality personnel in third countries – from cultural institutes to attachés abroad – as well as bringing together civil society networks that operate in parallel to governments, would represent a huge added-value in terms of smart complementarity.

The second is the creation of European Creative Hubs. This is what we aim to achieve with Creative Europe. Setting up European creative hubs in strategic third countries would allow for better exchanges between artists and cultural operators who wish to develop new audiences and focus on local demand. The wider spill-over effects of such hubs would include better match-making of projects and facilitate cooperation between creative and cultural sectors from Europe and abroad.

Improved city-to-city cooperation is the third and final idea I wish to focus on. Our cities represent a precious asset in terms of creativity and cultural know-how. Exchanging with cities across the globe facing similar challenges could provide a way of obtaining real, practical advice and of creating lasting relationships and improve inter-regional cooperation and dynamism. The success of European Capitals of Culture initiative shows that there is a real interest and need for such actions.

Dear friends,

EU Ministers of Culture have endorsed the objective of a more strategic approach to culture in our external relations. At the same time, we need to bring the issue on the broader EU political agenda.

The final report of this Preparatory Action will be of the utmost use to our work in the coming months and years. In the near future, we intend to discuss the report and the recommendations with the Member States.

But today and tomorrow we want to hear your views. We want to understand better what your expectations are and which opportunities are available to us.

The great challenge is to move from policy reflection and discussion to action. We have already made some meaningful steps in the last years. I am hopeful that, with the engagement and mobilisation of all stakeholders, we could form a partnership among EU institutions, Member States, and civil society that can take us to the future.

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