Conference on Culture in the EU External Relations 2014

The Conference on Culture in the EU External Relations (Brussels, 7-8 April 2014) was a truly unique indication that culture is taken seriously by the Commission, beyond its Education and Culture Unit.

Conceived as a concluding event of a 2-year-long work in preparing Report & Recommendations on Culture in EU External Relations, the conference was much more than a visibility action for the Report team and the EU External Action Service that had commissioned it. Speakers and moderators made an effort to make explicit many of the internal tensions in both the concept of cultural diplomacy and its potential application in the EU foreign relations policy. There was - surprisingly - an agreement on the main principles that would form the ground of a future EU strategy for international cultural relations: mutuality (rather than one-way development), long-term engagement (rather than expectations for immediate results and returns), multi-partner approach (rather than creating a single institution), etc. At the same time, there were warnings from experienced cultural operators in the so called "third countries" that over-stressing the importance for the EU to intervene in conflict zones and conflict times only, may lead to turning a blind eye on less spectacular cultural processes that need a long-term support and involvement.

Many questions remained opened but one of them somehow remained on the surface: what would the added European value be if cultural relations with the rest of the world are being spelled out in terms of "EU external cultural relations" as opposed to the current situation, in which we have several big member states with a long history of supporting cultural exchange with "third countries". In other words, what would EU add to what British Council, Goethe Institute and all other members of EUNIC are already doing? From a small-country perspective at least part of the answer seems obvious: it is currently the large (former colonial) countries that sustain cultural institutes networks, and they remain largely bi-lateral in their logic. 

All materials of the conference, the country reports as well as the expert groups' recommendations are available at www.cultureinexternalrelations.eu

Pictures in the gallery by Yana Genova, from left to right: 1. Audience overview; 2. and 3. Isabelle Schwartz of ECF; 4. Day 1, Prof. Yudhishthir Raj Isar; 5. Oussama Rifahi of Arab Fund for Arts and Culture


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