Challenges and opportunities for a European cultural diplomacy strategy

In a recent policy brief, Tamas Szücs and Anna Triandafyllidou identify a number of challenges that need to be addressed in order for the EU to become more efficient in furthering its international cultural relations and to ensure a more profound integration of culture into its foreign, security and development policies.

First, coordination is key both at central and local levels during the whole process and among all actors concerned. Beyond governmental institutions, such as ministries and national cultural institutes, the process should also involve non-state actors at local and regional levels, such as cities, cultural associations, artists and curators, as well as international organisations, such as UNESCO and the Council of Europe. Their involvement should ensure smooth and efficient actions avoiding overlaps and duplications by the EU, the Council of Europe and UNESCO.

Second, the involvement from the beginning of all cultural stakeholders in the co-creation and co-curation of products and services, such as film festivals, art exhibitions, fairs and laboratories, should create a sense of co-ownership of projects and initiatives, which is a basic condition for their success.

There is no one size fits all model; each world region and country requires a different approach and pace. In some cases, for example, crucial demands, in terms of livelihood security, education and basic infrastructure, need first to be met before it is possible to engage in any cultural activity. In other cases, creative and cultural industries become the main sources of livelihoods for people who would otherwise remain unemployed and marginalised. In some regions of the world a city level approach works best, in others the emphasis should be more on engaging with regional or national players.

Co-creation presents important value challenges. The question that arises is whether the EU’s cultural projects for development, mobility and exchange should focus on the issue of having a shared value basis between the EU and the third country involved, or if, instead, they should have a common set of cultural creation goals and seek to build bridges and forge common values between the participating countries.

In addition, one should not forget that countries are internally heterogeneous, as they may be composed of different regions and often embrace native and migrant minorities. In this context the role of diasporas deserves special attention. Most importantly, in both Africa and Asia borders have been drawn by colonial powers cutting across or bringing together different ethnic and linguistic communities. Taking into account such variety and complexity, and building it into cultural projects is a must for an EU strategic approach for international cultural relations to be successful.

Last, but certainly not least, sustainability, active communication and promotion should accompany all actions. Projects need to run for a certain period of time, or be repeated at regular intervals, in order to prove and measure their positive impact on community relations and development. Selected audiences, beyond the participants, should be informed about concrete projects using targeted messages, directly as well as via social media and through audiovisuals, in order to increase their impact and create a virtuous feedback-loop.

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Cultural Diplomacy

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