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Evolution of the role of culture in the EU’s external strategy

Silvio Gonzato, from the European Commission, explains what have been the main evolutions of the role of culture in the external action of the EU.
Well, I think the Treaty of Lisbon gave it a great impulse. It really emphasised the role that culture can play, both inside the EU and outside, and clarified a little bit further the roles between the different levels, the European level and the member states level. You know, probably as well as everybody else, that culture is seen very much as part of the national identity. And therefore, any role for the European Union should not impinge on this and should not be seen as interfering, as adding a level of homogeneity that would go to the detriment of national identities. So there’s always been this tension between the European and the national level. I think we’ve gone beyond that.
I think there’s a recognition that we need to work together. There are specific roles for all actors involved. If you look at the declaration that the 27 heads of state and government released on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, it was a very specific circumstance, as you can understand. It was in the context of Brexit. It was in the context of a crisis for the European Union. And there, they recognised that culture– the fostering and promoting of a common cultural heritage and a common cultural identity– is key, is key to the European project.
If you add to that the fact that, in the meantime, work had progressed and had finally resulted in the adoption of this joint communication on the role of culture in external relations, there was also the recognition that culture can be, not just a vehicle for internal social cohesion, but it can also be a platform for developing those partnerships that we want to develop around the world, in order to pursue our objectives, in order to promote the values that the European Union stands for. In order, also, to promote development, sustainable development, promote for prosperity. And with prosperity, we know that there’s also stability. And stability for us is an important factor, that has also, if you want, economic repercussions.
Because in a more stable world, we can trade more freely, and therefore, we can thrive. So I think there’s been quite a momentous progress in this. We in the European External Action Service, working under the leadership of Frederica Mogherini, we see really culture as an opportunity. It’s not so much as a tool, but it’s a space. It’s a space where you can create better understanding, that you can create the basis for a more fruitful dialogue with other countries, with other communities. You can promote peaceful relations between communities that have known tensions.
If we look at our neighbourhood, for example, in the Western Balkans, it’s clear to us that culture can be a powerful vehicle to try and accept each other’s differences, but see this as a richness rather than as an obstacle. Of course, culture is also an engine for economic and social development. We see this very much, for example, on the African continent, but not only. We’ve been spearheading projects that try to develop creative industries, and there’s an enormous potential there that can really trigger off growth and jobs. And this is for us very important, because we believe that.
Also part of the way in which we tackle the migratory phenomenon, we see the importance of creating the conditions for stable economic growth in some countries, which are countries of origin of migration. And then, there’s of course the whole issue of cultural heritage, how we cooperate with other countries in protecting cultural heritage. We see very much forces like Daesh, for example, trying to destroy the cultural heritage of a nation, because they want to deny that nation its own identity. They want to impose a new identity on it and deny the fact that, for example, in certain civilizations, the Christian religion, the Jewish, and the Muslims lived peacefully together.
So cooperation also in the cultural heritage field for us is very important.

Silvio Gonzato, from the European Commission, explains what have been the main evolutions of the role of culture in the external action of the EU in the last decades.

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Cultural Diplomacy

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