EESC urges Commissioner Navracsics to adopt Action Plan on cultural diplomacy

Plenary debate also calls for culture to be recognised as a pillar of sustainable development and as a tool to fight populism and radicalisation

The EU needs a concrete plan to champion culture as a vital element in open, tolerant societies, according to Europe’s leading organised civil society body.

The 350-member European Economic and Social Committee held a debate with Culture Commissioner Tibor Navracsics and voted through its opinion on the EU’s recent strategy for international cultural relations on Wednesday at its May plenary in Brussels.

Culture has an enormous untapped potential for becoming a unifying and mobilising instrument in Europe. At a time when extremism is increasing, when our citizens are questioning their common identity more than ever - now is the moment to firmly place culture and cultural policies at the heart of the European political agenda declared the rapporteur Luca Jahier, President of the EESC Various Interests' Group.

The EU should grasp momentum and 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.

While welcoming the recent Joint Communication ‘Towards an EU strategy for international cultural relations’ the EESC urged the Commission and EEAS to, amongst others:

  • Implement a clear action plan (and governance structure) to enhance European culture and international cultural exchange, partaking advantage of the momentum created by the 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage
  • Recognise culture as a pillar of sustainable development, along with economic, social and environmental pillars
  • Make full use of culture in peace building and conflict resolution strategies, and for the EU to take its place as a global leader in peace promotion worldwide

Commissioner Navracsics praised the EESC’s opinion and agreed on the importance of all stakeholders, especially civil society, in the implementation strategy. “The role of culture is very high on the Commission's agenda. I have no doubt that it can play an enormous role in preventing conflict and social and economic difficulties, and 2018 will be a very important year for us to have a debate on the relevance of European heritage in the creation of a European identity”, he added.

Members also highlighted the need for further understanding of how culture, or the loss thereof, can lead to radicalisation among young people.

When social fragmentation and populist tendencies are gaining ground, culture has an increasing role to play in reinforcing ties between civil society, promoting mutual understanding, encouraging diversity and exchange, and countering simplistic views, stated EESC President Georges Dassis.

To this end, the EESC suggested including interreligious dialogue as part of the intercultural exchanges promoted by the Communication.  Erasmus-style exchanges between students and scholars of faith-based universities, as well as between cultural operators, were among the initiatives considered worth trialling.

An evaluation of the Erasmus+ program (encompassing all education, training, youth and sport initiatives) was also approved in the plenary. This found an increased budget had increased effectiveness, though there was still room for improvement, such as through greater access for disadvantaged groups and a stronger emphasis on the lifelong learning dimension. The EESC members said it was crucial for the programme to receive additional funding.

Could Erasmus function better? It could and it should, said Indré Vareikytė, the rapporteur for the Information report on the Erasmus+ mid-term evaluation, adding that it is the best time to review what should be done differently to achieve the necessary goals.

But Erasmus is deservedly called the flagship European programme, Ms Vareikytė said, maintaining that it helped many young people to improve their skills in a way the formal education system failed. It has also helped build a European identity which is ever more important in the times of rising populism and xenophobia as it promotes important European values, she concluded.

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