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Industry Report: European Policy

Preparatory action on culture in EU external relations


- The final conference on the future of EU cultural relations was held in Brussels on 7-8 April

Preparatory action on culture in EU external relations

After the European Parliament decided to develop a strategy on culture in EU external relations, a preparatory action was launched by a designated consortium led by the Goethe-Institut. The action started with a mapping of the existing projects, resources and strategies, after which a major consultation with stakeholders from the EU and other countries was held. Before the submission of the report to the European Commission and its publication, due at the end of April, a final conference to draw conclusions and recommendations was held in Brussels on 7-8 April.

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The main findings of the preparatory action were as follows: first of all, the EU has great potential in terms of cultural relations, and third countries are generally strongly interested in engaging culturally with the EU. Despite this, the EU does not yet have a strategy for its cultural relations at the ready. As a great deal is still done at the Member State level (particularly through cultural institutes), the suggestion is to have them working with the EU and civil society in a complementary way. This pooling of expertise is particularly important at a time of financial cutbacks because it helps to prevent duplications.

A certain number of pilot projects, coupling culture with other aspects of external relations, such as development, economy, social transformation and conflict resolution, have to be launched in order to kick-start the strategy, possibly with appropriate funding (it will therefore be very important to demonstrate the impact of the programme for the budget review in 2016).

The vital need for a radical simplification was stressed several times during the final conference. Unfortunately, as Sana Tamzini, president of FACT – Forum des Associations Culturelles Tunisiennes – highlighted, the administrative burden is still very heavy, and there is a total lack of reciprocity. “Third countries need the EU for training and structuring,” she added, “but they can also give a lot to the EU in terms of creativity and ideas.” This calls for a truly reciprocal strategy.

“Today, the relations of the EU with third countries continue to be very unilateral,” said Oussama Rifahi, executive director of AFAC – The Arab Fund for Arts and Culture – “and the great willingness to enhance cooperation often clashes with the lack of funds.” Rifahi also underlined that, instead of adding a new institutional layer, the EU should develop the already-existing projects that had concrete results. Strangely enough, no one ever mentioned any of those existing programmes for cultural cooperation, such as Euromed Heritage.

What the conference also lacked was a representative from the Commission’s Directorate General for Cooperation and Development, an absence made all the more striking by the fact that participants came from all over the world to take part.

Most of the panellists agreed on the fact that there is no single strategy applicable to everyone. Instead, patterns should be adjusted on a case-by-case basis. Priority should then be given to small projects, as they are more highly calibrated in terms of specific local characteristics.

Some interesting suggestions were made during the conference, such as a more flexible visa policy to help creators to circulate and the establishment of a cultural consultative forum working with the European External Action Service. Nevertheless, in the end, the preparatory action did not seem very innovative, and no new concrete approaches were mentioned, thus reinforcing the stereotype of a European Union that is hindered by its bureaucratic and analytical burden.


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