Culture can be a driver for strengthening the EU

EESC debate on rEUnaissance – A cultural vision for Europe

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) hosted a debate on "rEUnaissance - A cultural vision for Europe", featuring Andre Wilkens, director of the European Cultural Foundation; Pier Luigi Sacco, special adviser to Tibor Navracsics, commissioner for education, culture, youth and sport; Airan Berg, artistic director of the Festival of the Regions and Elke Kaschl Mohni, director of the Goethe Institute in Brussels.

The EESC president, Luca Jahier, began by noting that he was pleased that Emmanuel Macron had embraced his idea of a new Renaissance for Europe and that the French president obviously shared his view on how to revive the European project. It is indeed necessary to have a Renaissance for Europe, and what would be easier than to use culture as the carrier and driver for strengthening the EU. We should not forget that our continent was a cultural space before it was a political idea, and space does not imply homogeneity, but thriving on variation and movement. Europe needs a true long-term and daring vision and I am looking forward to the conference on the Future of Europe announced by president-elect Ursula von der Leyen, to whom we already have offered our full support.

Andre Wilkens referred to the founding documents of the European Cultural Foundation, whose mission was to create and promote European sentiment. A sense of European belonging would be necessary. This mission is as relevant today as it was then, he said.  2019 and the years to come will be defining for Europe. Mr Wilkens asserted that we are facing division and polarisation of our societies and pointed out that today culture and identity is sometimes misused to divide our communities rather than to create solutions, which is a threat to European integration. People-to-people experience was key. Erasmus was a very successful tool, which should be extended. We need to imagine Europe, he continued, we need to tell and talk about the story of Europe and we need to talk about it not only as an economic model, but comprehensively and from a European focus rather than a national one. It is therefore important to create a European public space, where everybody contributes.

Pier Luigi Sacco said that culture had an impact on our economy but if we were to look at the US or China we would see that their cultural industry had developed at a much higher speed than in Europe.

We should not underestimate the power of culture for making a difference, he said, mentioning three examples:

  • Culture makes people less worried about the unknown and the new;
  • Culture familiarizes people with new ideas and innovations;
  • Culture is an extreme driver of change.

Culture could thus influence people's behaviour towards migration, but also towards the protection of our environment. It was important to consider societal challenges.

Elke Kaschl Mohni referred to the role of culture in external relations, which had shifted from cultural diplomacy to cultural relations. The aim of cultural relations is to strengthen trust and understanding, she said. The focus now was on quality and fairness, people-to-people exchange and common projects.

She agreed with Mr Sacco that culture was a very powerful driver of behavioural change; however, which direction this change takes could not be dictated.

If we take the approach of cultural relations based on trust, quality and fairness seriously, we need to be self-reflective and transparent about our own positions, interests and methodology and not shy away from difficult topics, she underlined. 

Culture should not only be a sector in the arts and in the economy but also a transversal issue spanning across many aspects of our society.

Adrian Berg said that culture and art could make people move out of their comfort zone. Change only happens when we move out of our comfort zone, he said. Culture should also be collaborative, participatory and inclusive. There must be a move from critical thinking to action design.

During the discussion, EESC members linked culture to many issues such as our natural heritage, sustainability, the rights and dignity of minorities, peace, and social challenges, as well as to education, innovation, digitalisation and a place for artificial intelligence in our societies and daily lives.

Mr Jahier concluded the debate by stating that he had learned from the discussion that there was a way to make renaissance a strategy for Europe. To this end, he saw four priorities:

1. Adding culture as the fourth pillar of the social, economic and environmental agenda;

2. Pushing for culture to become a priority in policymaking;

3. At the EESC, taking the liberty of suggesting the creation of a new body for culture;

4. Coming back to Article 300 of the Lisbon Treaty and insisting on nominating members from the cultural sector.


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