EU cultural diplomacy must be used as a peace-building and soft power tool

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Federica Mogherini chairing the Foreign Affairs Council on 14 November 2016. [Council]

International cultural relations have an enormous and untapped potential within the current global context, in which freedom of expression, human rights and mutual cooperation are under threat, writes Luca Jahier.

Luca Jahier is president of Group III of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and rapporteur of the EESC opinion, following the European Commission Communication.

At a time when extremism is increasing, when our citizens are questioning their common EU identity more than ever – now is the time to firmly place culture and cultural policies at the heart of the European political agenda.

Making 2018 the year of European Cultural Heritage is a first step in the right direction. But the EU should use the positive dynamics created by this initiative to create a concrete strategy and action plan for international cultural relations, including culture as a tool of soft power and promoting it as a pillar of sustainable development.

Such plan can be developed. The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has worked on the blueprint together with the European Parliament and last week unanimously adopted an opinion.

For centuries, European Union citizens have forged a sense of common belonging on the basis of shared values of peace, prosperity and social rights. The ‘European identity’ was the product of a Europe wrecked by war and with an urgent imperative to rebuild its economic power and social cohesion.

Drawing from its own experience, the European Union has the power to use culture as a peace-building and soft power tool in societies marked by conflict. The positive outcome of the bottom-up PEACE project in Northern Ireland demonstrates this potential.

If used correctly, culture can become the best tool to fight propaganda and authoritarianism. Based on the extraordinary richness of diversity, culture will inevitably combat populist tendencies and state-led cultural propaganda, build bridges between people and open up opportunities for closer cooperation and exchange.

Experimental global initiatives such as “White Dove” should be developed for the EU to take its place as a global leader in the practice, promotion and protection of peace worldwide.

But culture is also crucial for economic growth and sustainable development, and should be recognised as such. More EU programmes should be developed supporting the creative industries, freedom of artistic expression in Europe and worldwide, and promoting employment, skills development and support to SME’s within this field.

Moreover, the European “capitals of culture” have proved to be a successful initiative over the course of more than 30 years. However, there is still a room to further promote this project, and launch it on an international scale with the cooperation of the Council of Europe and UNESCO.

Civil society representative have an important role to play in the development of people-to-people cultural exchanges and knowledge sharing! I personally call on the EU to promote networks of cultural players and put in place annual cultural civil society forums of actors in this field.

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