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Culture at heart of EU international relations

09 June 2016
by eub2 -- last modified 09 June 2016

A new strategy to put culture at the heart of EU foreign policy adopted on 8 June is in line with the European Commission's priority to make the EU a stronger global actor. Culture can play a crucial role in strengthening international partnerships.


Why has the Commission adopted an EU Strategy for international cultural relations?

In a fast-changing, inter-connected world, cultural relations offer a unique opportunity for improving relations with EU partner countries. Culture is a valuable resource to tackle many of the challenges Europe and the world are currently facing – such as the integration of refugees and migrants, countering violent radicalisation and the protection of cultural heritage.

The potential of the cultural and creative sectors and the economic benefits of cultural exchanges also need to be tapped into to contribute to inclusive growth and job creation in the EU and its partner countries.

Several parties - Member States, the European Parliament and civil society – have called on the High Representative and the European Commission to develop a strategic vision to advance international cultural relations. The call to draw up such a strategy is also underpinned by the Preparatory Action on Culture in EU External Relations, which highlighted the need to implement a new model of cultural cooperation, based on co-operation and peer-to-peer learning.

The global context makes the call for the development of an EU strategy only stronger. Increased cultural cooperation and direct contacts and exchanges between people will contribute to making the EU a stronger global actor, in line with the ninth priority outlined by President Jean-Claude Juncker, reflecting the ambition of the EU's forthcoming Global Strategy.

What are the main objectives of the new strategy?

The EU strategy for international cultural relations will focus on three main objectives:

  • Supporting culture as an engine for social and economic development

    The economic benefits of cultural exchanges are too often overlooked. Global trade in creative products has more than doubled between 2004 and 2013, despite the global recession. Culture is a central element in the new economy driven by creativity, innovation, digital dimension and access to knowledge. Cultural and creative industries represent around 3% of global GDP and 30 million jobs. In the EU alone these industries account for more than 7 million jobs. In developing countries, UNESCO's Culture for Development Indicators (CDIS) show that culture contributes 1.5% to 5.7% of GDP in low and middle-income countries.

    The available data both in developing and developed countries indicate that the cultural sectors may account, depending on the country and scope, for 2% and 7% of GDP respectively, which is more than many other traditional industrial sectors.

    The EU strategy for international cultural relations should therefore also become a strategy for inclusive growth and job creation.

  • Promoting intercultural dialogue and the role of culture for peaceful inter-community relations

    Inter-cultural dialogue, including inter-religious dialogue, is a key tool in promoting the building of fair, peaceful and inclusive societies as well as the value of cultural diversity and respect for human rights. It establishes common ground and a favourable environment for further exchanges.

    Inter-cultural dialogue will be promoted through cooperation between cultural operators; peace-building cultural activities; exchanges between young people, students, researchers, scientists and alumni; as well as through cooperation on the protection of cultural heritage.

  • Reinforcing cooperation on cultural heritage

    Cultural heritage is an important manifestation of cultural diversity that needs to be protected. Rehabilitating and promoting cultural heritage attracts tourism and boosts economic growth. There are many opportunities for joint action with partner countries to develop sustainable strategies for heritage protection through training, skills development and knowledge transfer.

    The EU supports research and innovation for cultural heritage. The Commission will contribute to international efforts for the protection of cultural heritage sites and will consider a legislative proposal to regulate the import into the EU of cultural goods. It will also propose to the European Parliament and the Council of the EU to organise a European Year of Cultural Heritage in 2018.

    How will the strategy be implemented and what will the Member States' role be?

    The success of the new approach relies on the principle that all stakeholders join forces. Complementarity and synergies between all main players – governments from partner countries at all levels, local cultural organisations and civil society, the Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS), EU Member States, and their cultural institutes - are essential.

    For the implementation of the Strategy for international cultural relations, the EU can count on its 139 Delegations and Offices operating around the world, which already carry out an enormous number of cultural activities in their host countries. The EU (delegations) will act as an enabler and encourage synergies and cooperation between national cultural institutes and foundations, and private and public enterprises worldwide.

    It is therefore important to establish effective partnerships between all these bodies. That is why an EU Cultural Diplomacy Platform was set up in February 2016, focusing on strategic partners. Operated by a consortium of Member States' Cultural Institutes and other partners, the Platform will advise the European Commission and the EEAS on external cultural policy, facilitate networking, carry out activities with cultural stakeholders and develop training programmes for cultural leadership.

    Could you give concrete examples of projects to be carried out under the new Strategy?

    A pilot project has just been launched to create a global platform (p.13) gathering networks of young cultural entrepreneurs from Europe and partner countries to facilitate exchanges between them. The Creative Europe programme, the main EU financial instrument for culture, is open to neighbourhood and enlargement countries, and the Commission encourages them to join.

    The 11th EDF Intra-ACP programme (p.6&7) will support the contribution of cultural industries to the socio-economic development of ACP countries. Another initiative will be launched on intercultural dialogue including local authorities, funded under the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI).

    In the South Mediterranean, the EU will continue to support the Anna Lindh Foundation, including the second phase of the Young Arab Voices programme (now enlarged to the EuroMediterranean region) to deepen the dialogue between young leaders and civil society representatives and develop counter-narratives to extremism and violent radicalisation.

    In the Eastern Partnership (EaP), the "EaP Culture Programme Phase II" is supporting the cultural and creative sectors' contribution to sustainable humanitarian, social and economic development. At the same time, the "Community-Led Urban Strategies in Historic Towns" project seeks to stimulate social and economic development by enhancing cultural heritage in 9 historic towns in Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine.

    The new Strategy will allow the targeting of specific regions or countries with appropriate actions. For example, the EU Cultural Diplomacy Platform is now exploring possibilities of cultural cooperation with Iran, in particular in the field of cultural heritage. Other ideas are being explored, such as the opening of a House of European Culture in Tehran. Similar projects are being considered for Ukraine.

    Further information

    Communication on international cultural relations