"The EU is among the richest and most culturally diverse areas in the world, but is doing too little to take a leadership position using this advantage," argued Schaake, who drafted a European Parliament report on the cultural dimensions of the EU's external actions.
The House's culture committee unanimously adopted her report in March, and it was debated and then adopted yesterday (12 May) at a Strasbourg plenary session.
The report underlines the importance of cultural cooperation with foreign countries as a way to advance Europe's interests and values in the world – including democracy, human rights, conflict prevention and peace building.
Schaake regretted that while China, NATO and the US are investing in cultural and digital diplomacy, "culture in the EU comes up as a potential to save budgets".
She noted that several departments of the European Commission - trade, development, culture and education as well as external relations - are involved with the EU's external cultural policy, but that their actions were not coordinated well enough.
The MEP sees the setting up of the EU's External Action Service (EEAS) as the perfect opportunity "to streamline and coordinate cultural programmes".
In addition, "while the EU has attractive, diverse cultural content, it needs to be more accessible to people across the world. We must also open up information about the EU in general and about cultural programmes through the Internet," Schaake said.
Defending Internet freedom
Asked what kind of action should drive the EU's 'cultural diplomacy', Schaake singled out the promotion of Internet freedom, saying "culture, values and freedoms are very much intertwined".
The EU's cultural diplomacy strategy should focus on "digital diplomacy", she said, explaining that "by allowing more people to connect without being censored, more people can access information and cultural content" as well as experience Europe's digitised cultural diversity.
"Culture, values and freedoms are very much intertwined. It is therefore a strategic issue for Europe," she went on, adding that people, artists, students and entrepreneurs are often the best ambassadors and that "culture can facilitate access and contact where political relations are blocked or troubled".
Schaake stressed that Europe's languages are naturally part of its cultural heritage and diversity, and noted that language is already being used as a tool for cultural relations, citing the 'Alliance Française' as an example.
But the MEP believes that the EU can do more to promote its linguistic diversity and learn from civil society organisations' experiences on the matter, for example.