July 10, 2018

Culture: the hidden gem of European diplomacy

The European Union has formulated a common strategy for international cultural relations. This is also advantageous for the Netherlands.

With its strategy for culture in external relations, the European Union is contributing for instance to the United Nations’ Ethical Fashion Initiative, which links up young fashion designers in Africa with the international fashion industry

More room for culture to contribute to a safe, just and future-proof world is the second objective formulated in the Dutch international cultural policy framework. At a conference held this week, staff members of Dutch embassies and consulates in Turkey, Russia, Egypt and Morocco – the focus countries of this objective – will discuss the best way to go about it with representatives of partner organisations. The timing of the conference is favourable, seeing how the European Union just announced its intention to seriously incorporate cultural diplomacy in its foreign policy, also with a focus on these countries. 

Gem
It has been an ambition for many years to have culture play a larger role in the EU’s external relations. Following various reports, studies and lobbying efforts, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament presented a joint plan in May 2017 for an EU strategic approach to international cultural relations. This means that all member states have agreed to give culture more weight in the EU’s foreign policy.

Upon announcing the strategy, the European Commissioner for Culture, Tibor Navracsics, emphasised the significance of culture in the EU’s external relations: "Culture is the hidden gem of our foreign policy. It helps to promote dialogue and mutual understanding. Culture has a great role to play in making the EU a stronger global actor."

Existing programmes
The principal premise of the strategy is to make maximum use of existing programmes, tools and initiatives in the EU’s foreign and cultural policies. Just like the Dutch international cultural policy, the strategy will designate a number of focus countries and regions, such as the circle around Europe and developing countries. The EU Representations will be the main implementing party of the strategy. 

The strategy has already taken shape in various collaborative projects with for instance international cultural institutions, EUNIC, UNESCO, important cultural institutes and the local cultural field in the focus countries. For example, the EU contributes to the international Ethical Fashion Initiative, which links up young fashion designers in Africa with the international fashion industry.

The EU Representation to Tunisia also supports the Tfanen-Tunisie Créative project, aimed at boosting capacity building in the Tunisian cultural sector and carried out by the local EUNIC staff.

What it means for the Netherlands 
The description of the second objective of the Dutch international policy states: “The Netherlands is only one of the players in the countries in question, and has relatively few resources for the achievement of this objective.” Also for this reason, the implementation of the EU strategy represents a welcome opportunity for the Netherlands. 
Dutch embassies and organisations operating abroad and particularly in the focus countries of the international cultural policy can benefit from the joint effort at the European level. All four of the objective 2 focus countries are part of the EU strategy, for example. The EU Representations have the mandate and the budget, while the knowledge and networks need to be contributed by the cultural partners, including the Dutch players in the field.

Want to know more about the cultural EU strategy or objective 2 of the Dutch international cultural policy? The person to contact is Robert Kieft.