Europe in lack of culture

And if culture were to become community matter?

, by Translated by Florent Banfi, Mehdi Drici

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Europe in lack of culture

“If Europe were to start again, I would begin by Culture.”This quotation, falsely associated with Jean Monnet, shows an important limitation of Europe. The issue must be tackled starting with an almost existential question: what is culture from a European point of view?

No defence, no culture

At the beginning of the European construction, a trauma: the sensational failure of the European Defence Community in 1954, consequence of an unfavourable French vote that obliged even the most pro-Europeans to put aside their enthousiasm. Above all, this failure gave way to a policy of “small steps” - in the economy (EEC), energy (ECSC) and nuclear (EURATOM) fields - as new means for integrating Europe. Consequently, no reference to culture can be found in the Treaty of Rome of 1957 [1].

Moreover, culture is not a secondary issue: it is strictly connected to identity and politics. Interfering with culture would considerably broaden the scope of the Community. Something that none of the Member States really wanted to do.

“Cultural workers”

What can the European Community accomplish in areas that do not fall under its direct jurisdiction? This question was notably raised by Robert Gregory, a member of the Directorate General for Research and Development “at the beginning of the 70’s. In 1972, he submitted to the Commission a Memorandum with the evocative title:”For a Community action in the field of culture.“His thesis was simple: culture, as it relates to economic and social needs, consequently concerns the European Economic Community. Writers, filmmakers, musicians are”cultural workers“, and consequently, for the mere reason of being workers, must be included within the EEC framework. With the support of Altiero Spinelli [2], Commissioner for industrial policy, the Commission adopted the Memorandum unchanged. But yet ten more years had to pass before an agreement was reached on a definition of”cultural sector“(but not of culture):”all persons and enterprises engaged in production and distribution of cultural property and cultural benefits." Such a definition, which found a broad consensus, clearly avoids to tackle the role of public institutions.

Cultures and representations of the World

Europe is indeed torn between two different visions of the relationship culture/State:

One vision sees the state as guarantor of the cultural supply, which must consequently support actions and spaces of expression. On the contrary, the other visions beliefs that culture is a private domain, where the state must remain neutral and where its interventions can be dangerous for the vitality and freedom of the cultural expression.

These two opposite models represent the French and the Anglo-Saxon types. These two representations of the cultural world came into conflict in 1986, during the negotiations of the Uruguay Round of GATS (General Agreement on Trade and Services), whose goal was the liberalisation of the cultural services and activities. France lead the opposition with the key principle that “Culture is not a commodity like any other” (Jacques Delors, 1993) implying that culture was still treated as whatever good within the world market. It is in the midst of these discussions that the “cultural exception” found its way.

The European States, through the Council, delegate the Commission to negotiate with the WTO. Europe found a common position with the goal of promoting “cultural diversity” [3], issue where the the European States found a unanimous agreement because of one simple reason: the threaten posed by the mere presence of the Hollywood ogre.

Today, Europe has a common vision on culture. However, this consensus is also the consequence of a limited involvement of the Union in the cultural field.

The shyness of the European treaties in the cultural field

The treaties from this point of view have not achieved much. The Maastricht Treaty represented an evolution compared to the Treaty of Rome, as cultural cooperation became a recognized goal of the Community action with an article devoted to it, Article 128, which became Article 151 in the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1999. On the contrary, the Treaty of Lisbon does not add anything new: the EU can carry out “operations in support or coordination” in the cultural field.

We remain within an intergovernmental posture, keeping the application of the unanimity principle as general rule in cultural policies. No initiative is possible in this field for the Commission. Although large-scale projects as “Culture 2000” or “European Capital of Culture” are sometimes set up, the budget allocation for culture remains ridiculously low: 0.03% of the overall budget.

A cultural Europe is still far away from being achieved.

Image: picture from the website of the European Commission showing the MEDIA programme (2001 - 2005) which aims at strengthening the competitiveness of the European audiovisual industry through a series of incentives on training of professionals in the fields of film, development of production projects, distribution and promotion of cinematographic and audiovisual programmes in Europe.

To read: Europe and culture on


[1] The Council of Europe, which brings together countries on the basis of the respect of human rights, has adopted the European Cultural Convention in 1954 in Paris, but this is merely a declaration of intentions, a space for dialogue, respect for cultural and linguistic diversity.

[2] Author of the “Ventotene Manifesto” in 1941 in favour of a European federation;

[3] “The Union needs to ensure, preserve and develop […], for the Community and its Member States, their cultural and audiovisual policies for the preservation of their cultural diversity.”

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