MEP: ‘Digital diplomacy’ to open access to Europe’s culture

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The European Union should make its diverse cultural content more accessible to people around the world via increased investments in cultural and, in particular, digital diplomacy, Dutch liberal MEP Marietje Schaake told EURACTIV in an interview.

Marietje Schaake is a Dutch liberal MEP. 

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here.

What for you is 'European culture': how would you define it?  

European culture represents the rich cultural diversity of Europe. But it is more than the sum of its parts. European culture is also a manifestation of our values, such as freedom of expression, human rights and democracy.

Your report calls for the creation of a cultural visa for third-country nationals, artists and other professionals in the cultural field. Why do you think such a visa is necessary? Do you have any examples of existing obstacles to mobility in the cultural sector?

We must open up our cultural products such as literature, film, music and heritage. Creators can be inspired by exchanging experiences and working together. This is why I call for the creation of a cultural visa. These facilitate connections and collaborations between artists from Europe and elsewhere.

At present it is far from easy for a Turkish artist to get a visa for European countries, for instance: this should not be the case. Any existing barriers, whether in the form of rules, bureaucracy or expenses, should be loosened up.

Your report expresses concern over the fragmentation of external EU cultural policy and projects. Can you give some examples of such fragmentation?

Several directorates-general (DGs) of the Commission are consequently involved with the EU's external cultural policy: from DG Trade and DG Development to DG Culture and Education and DG Relex. For example, the European Union is promoting exchanges between students, teachers, journalists and artists. It has set up many formal policy dialogues or cultural partnerships with several countries and regions, from the Mediterranean region to India. 

Additionally, a part of the development budget goes to cultural policy and cultural cooperation protocols – which foster trade in cultural goods and content – have been concluded with several countries, among others South Korea.

Not enough coordination is taking place among them, however. The report makes suggestions on how these different policies can be more coordinated. As the External Action Service is being set up, to coordinate and develop a common EU foreign policy, this is the right moment to streamline and coordinate cultural programmes.  

How can European culture be promoted through the Internet?   

Access to creative content via the Internet is growing, and allows people from all over the world to experience Europe's digitised cultural diversity. 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.  

Being connected to the (mobile) Internet is also increasingly important as a facilitator of universal rights. Access to information, press freedom, free expression, but also the documentation and communication of human rights violations is unthinkable without the Internet.

Repressive regimes also understand how new technologies can become vehicles for freedom and democracy, and crack down on people using the same means. People are being tortured for their passwords, so that opposition networks can be traced and arrested. Censorship, filtering and spying by governments to control and oppress people is more common. Europe needs to adapt its policies to to 21st Century reality.

With what kind of action should the EU drive 'cultural diplomacy'?  

People, artists, students, entrepreneurs are often the best ambassadors. Culture can facilitate access and contact where political relations are blocked or troubled. Culture has intrinsic value, but it can also be a vehicle for enabling development, emancipation, participation, free expression and human rights.

The EU should consider its global position. While culture in the EU comes up as a potential to save budgets, China, NATO and the US are investing in cultural and digital diplomacy. 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.

The EU should be a facilitator of people-to-people contact. Promoting and defending Internet freedom should be a vital part of the EU's strategy on cultural diplomacy. It should focus on digital diplomacy. By allowing more people to connect without being censored, more people can access information and cultural content. It is no coincidence that books, music and art are often banned in closed societies.

Two people's thoughts on their experiences are a case in point:

An anonimous Bosnian astist wrote: If you are looking for hell ask the artist where it is – if you can't find the artist then you are already in hell. 

Andras Simonyi, ex-ambassador of Hungary to the United States, once summarised well the strategic power of culture in foreign policy. He said that 'rock and roll was a decisive element in loosening up communist societies and bringing them closer to a world of freedom'.

Culture, values and freedoms are very much intertwined. It is therefore a strategic issue for Europe.

What role should the diversity of the EU 27's languages play in the EU's cultural diplomacy? 

Europe's languages are part of its cultural heritage and diversity. Language has been used as a tool for cultural relations, such as by the Alliance Française. The EU can work more with best practices from across the EU, and should include civil society's experience, such as of the European Union National Institutes of Culture (EUNIC).

What does 'brand Europe' mean to you?

Europe's cultural diversity is what makes the 'brand Europe'. This diversity is Europe's image in the world. The European Union is at present tourist attraction number 1 in the world. The EU should therefore protect this culturally diverse landscape and put it in the spotlight. There is no desire at all to blend this diversity into one!  What unites us are the values underpinning Europe. 

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