Culture’s role within the EU
Culture has always been of significant value to the European Union. Indeed, part of the EU’s success story lies in its capacity to uphold and respect the individual cultural identities of its member states while establishing common values that ensure a harmonious coexistence of EU citizens, connecting them through their common European identity.
But the challenge of connecting citizens through cultural means is certainly not to be underestimated. As the concept of culture encompasses a wide range of elements, including artistic works and services as well as a nation’s deeply rooted value set, addressing ‘culture’ in tangible and concrete ways can be a fairly complex venture.
The EU aims to achieve this by various means. In 2007, the European Commission set out an overall European Agenda for Culture, which runs towards three main objectives, designed to guide the EU in its culture-related ambitions.
First of all, the agenda puts a particular focus on cultural diversity and intercultural exchange. The rationale behind this objective is that access to the various cultures in the EU and exchange between people who have different cultural backgrounds can help citizens to improve their multicultural skills and foster closer bonds between European citizens.
To achieve this, the EU aims to encourage the mobility of people working in the cultural sphere and ensure that cultural goods can travel beyond state borders to benefit citizens both at home and abroad.
The second objective under this agenda is to promote the contribution of culture to the creative sector. By nurturing its cultural and creative potential, the EU can foster innovation, which in turn is seen as an important driver for growth and jobs.
Studies indicate that cultural and creative industries are a significant contributor to EU GDP and that they employ a large number of European citizens. This reveals the importance of promoting these sectors, particularly against the backdrop of the economic crisis and the current unemployment rates.
Finally, the European Agenda for Culture also aims to highlight the role of culture in Europe’s relations with countries around the world. This means that the EU aims to increase the awareness and understanding of European cultures even across continents. This can be done through cultural exchange with third countries and by ensuring that cultural goods do not only travel within the EU, but also outside of it.
The EU actively seeks to translate its cultural ambitions into tangible results on the ground. Through its Culture Programme, for instance, it aims in particular to promote Europe’s cultural diversity and its heritage. This means encouraging citizens who work in the cultural sector to engage with their counterparts in different member states, facilitating both intercultural dialogue and the exchange of cultural output across borders.
Concretely, the EU aims to foster cultural projects that span across the borders of member states, to provide support to cultural bodies and to ensure that cultural output is disseminated within the EU. The Culture Programme covers the period from 2007 to 2013 with a total budget of €400 million.
A well-known initiative is that of the European Capital of Culture. Through this initiative, the Council of the European Union grants the Capital of Culture award to two European cities on an annual basis. The selected cities are then celebrated as Europe’s culture capitals over the period of one year, during which a range of cultural events are organised that also reveal the cities’ European dimensions.
This presents a great opportunity for cities to breathe new life into their cultural offerings and raise their visibility within Europe and beyond. It can also bring additional economic benefits, as being a Capital of Culture can help a city to attract a larger volume of tourism.
In 2018, Malta is set to boast its own Capital of Culture for the first time, as Valletta was recommended to be the European Capital of Culture back in October. This will provide an excellent opportunity for our capital to carry forward its cultural and creative ambitions and to showcase its rich heritage to a European and international audience.
Culture continues to play an important role in the dynamics of the EU and its place within the functioning of the community is even anchored in the Treaty of Lisbon, which states that the EU shall ‘contribute to the flowering of the cultures of the member states, while respecting their national and regional diversity and at the same time bringing the common cultural heritage to the fore.’
Hopefully, European policymakers can continue on this path, ensuring the protection of individual cultures across the region while nurturing a sense of ‘Europeanness’ amongst the 500 million citizens of the EU.
David Casa is a Nationalist MEP.