Jean Michel Jarre: ‘Kafkaesque’ EU ignores world culture


The "administrative monster" of the EU is blocking one of the keys to sustainable development, culture, by diminishing its importance in development aid, renowned musician and composer Jean Michel Jarre told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.

In a wide-ranging interview (which can be found here) Jarre spoke at length about the symbiosis between his art and the protection of world heritage under Unesco, of which he is a goodwill ambassador.

Jarre said that he was attracted to Unesco, the cultural arm of the United Nations, because it was the only international organisation capable of communicating mankind's problems of over the next 25-30 years.

He gave as an example his interest in the destruction of the environment in the 1970s, represented by the cover of his 1976 album Oxygène, which shows the Earth peeling away to reveal a human skull.

“We see that today everyone is conscious of the environment and is aware that better care should be taken of the planet for future generations. Even if everything is not perfect, we have succeeded. And I think the same is needed concerning education,” he said.

Jarre paid tribute to Unesco Director General Irina Bokova who he said led the organisation by “making politics in the ancient Greek sense of this word”. He called her “one of the greatest intellectual leaders of the world” and praised the action of Unesco in fields such as education, gender equality, children rights, environment, water and culture.

To Jarre, culture and the future of the planet are intimately entwined. I think that culture is today more than ever key to sustainable development."

But the musician criticised the European Union for its “Kafkaesque” administrative complexity, and regretted that culture was relegated to “second rank” in EU development aid.

"Brussels suffers the nightmare of all the administrations of each of the country which adds itself to this city like a mille-feuille," he said. "It is clear that everyone is full of good intentions, but they gave birth to a monster, with the administrative system in Brussels. They wanted to control what must remain specific by definition."

However, Jarre paid tribute to his own country, France, for having spearheaded the “cultural exception” in international trade talks (see background). This was not just a French concern, he said, but an international one, as it created the idea that culture everywhere should be “considered in an exceptional manner”.

“One has to understand once and for all that culture is one of the foundations of democracy, one of the pillars of freedom, of one's identity. And in defending our culture, we defend the culture of others. And when France says "attention, the cultural exception exists," it doesn’t mean that the French cultural exception should be given special treatment,” he said.

'Europe has a role to play'

Jarre also said that the European Union had a role to play in promoting culture worldwide, because the old continent “ was and still is ahead in those questions”.

“In how to respect culture and in how culture is one of the pillars of our societies, it is Europe that has always been at the forefront of this process, and that has to continue, with the Chinese, with Asia, with the United States, and also to have this discussion between the North and South," he said.

Jarre gave thanks for the support he had received as a young musician in Eastern Europe, well before the fall of the Berlin wall, where his music was seen as a symbol of freedom.

“This gave from the very beginning an additional meaning to my work of artist and musician. From the very beginning, I developed personal relations with a number of countries, with Bulgaria, which was one of the first countries from where I received letters of encouragement. Paradoxically, as many as from my own country. This is something that deeply impacted on me, which became part of my DNA,” he said.

Jarre, a pioneer of electronic music known for enormous outdoor concerts, has for many years promoted the world's cultural heritage by performing at locations such as the pyramids in Egypt or the Morrocan Sahara.

The Frenchman was the first Western musician invited to perform in China, toured extensively in Eastern Europe and has broken the Guinness World Record for the largest concert three times (in 1979, 1990 and 1997). He is also the author of a fundraising initiative to combat illiteracy.

Read the full-size interview in French here.

Watch the unedited 31-minute recording of the interview here.

France introduced the cultural exception concept in 1993's General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade negotiations with the United States. The aim was to treat culture differently than other commercial products.

The mandate of the EU team which is negotiating a comprehensive Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the United States contains the provision that in any agreement movies and online entertainment would be shielded from the might of Hollywood and Silicon Valley.

In the EU, development aid is covered by the services of Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, and education and culture by those of Androulla Vassiliou. Unesco officials have insisted that culture should be the pillar of actions aimed at putting in place the conditions for a sustainable recovery, such as in today’s Mali.

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