Diversity Makes the Difference

European Cultural Foundation,
23 March 2007, Netherlands

Europe’s cultural sector has called for cultural cooperation between the EU and third countries to form a strong part of EU foreign policy. The call, reiterated at the ‘Diversity Makes the Difference’ conference at the Peace Palace of The Hague on 9 March 2007, received a greatly encouraging reception from the several EU policymakers present. A set of ‘Hague Recommendations’, suggesting the next steps to be taken and why, was endorsed by the conference participants.

Culture has long been a neglected aspect of the ‘European project’, but as Ján Figel (Commissioner for Education, Culture, and Sport) observed in his opening remarks to the conference: ‘Culture is becoming more visible because it is now more influential’. He pointed out that the UNESCO Convention on Cultural Diversity, which comes into force in spring 2007, provides a new international framework for exchange with third countries, and as such is an important stage on the road to integrating culture into EU external relations.

Milan Kučan, former President of Slovenia, stressed that respect for cultural diversity is the only path to a credible EU foreign policy. The EU’s former anti-terrorism coordinator, Gijs de Vries, spoke of the vital importance of cultural and educational tools for conflict prevention, and urged the EU to adopt a more systematic approach to culture in its policies and instruments. This point was echoed by Wilfried Grolig (Director-General for Culture and Education of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs) who said: ‘We are not at the very beginning of this process [integrating culture into EU external relations]; we are just not yet working systematically.’

Several speakers noted that foreign policy inevitably has a cultural dimension, which makes it all the more necessary to address this dimension directly. The dire situation in the Middle East underlines the consequences of neglecting intercultural competence and respect for cultural diversity in pursuing foreign policy objectives.

The costs attached to integrating a cultural component into EU foreign policy are minimal compared to the eventual costs of not doing so. A common EU cultural foreign policy would complement and by no means replace the present policies and activities of individual EU Member States. The Hague Recommendations propose that a proper framework be put in place which will enable the European Council, Commission and Parliament to develop a cultural component to EU foreign policy. The Commission’s Strategic Director in the Directorate General for External Relations, Sean Doyle, endorsed the recommendation that the EU should appoint a dialogue partner for regular consultation on this matter with representatives of national cultural institutes and agencies (EUNIC) as well as foundations and cultural networks. The Recommendations also propose further research and such specific measures as the creation of a flexible fund to support pilot projects that will explore new means of cooperation with third countries, and a gathering of European and non-European cultural managers to explore how to overcome administrative obstacles to cooperation. The Recommendations also anticipate positively the European Commission’s Communication on the role of culture in Europe, which addresses both the internal and external aspects of this role, thus implying support for the ‘mainstreaming’ of culture in European foreign policy.

On the eve of the EU’s 50th birthday and in the lead-up to the 2008 European Year of Intercultural Dialogue, the Hague conference ‘Diversity Makes the Difference’ proposes a new way for the EU to use its ‘soft power’ in helping bring about a peaceful, safe, sustainable, prosperous and fair world. To read the Hague recommendations, CLICK HERE For more information, CLICK HERE