By George Markopouliotis
We usually tend to identify culture with literature, arts or poetry. However, culture implies more than that. It constitutes our world views, ideas and attitudes, whilst shaping our ethos.
Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy said recently that we feel proud in the EU for we managed to ‘marry’ a diverse array of cultures and civilisations under an overarching framework.
Thus, our culture is Greek and Jewish, Roman and Anglo-Saxon, Christian and Arab, Latin and Slavic, French and German, Mediterranean and Scandinavian, religious and secular. Culture serves an additional function though; it is the vehicle to understand the Other.
For the stepping stone of all viable and prosperous relationships is understanding among individuals, groups of people, and to extrapolate, states.
The ‘Strategy for International Cultural Relations’ proposed by the Commission aims exactly at fostering cultural cooperation between the EU and its partner countries and promoting a global order based on peace, the rule of law, freedom of expression, mutual understanding and respect for fundamental values.
By placing culture at the core of our foreign policy, we are not trying to impose some kind of cultural hegemony. On the contrary, we show our eagerness to talk as equals with all potential friends and partners. For “dialogue among cultures”, as Federica Mogherini notes,“is not simply about teaching our culture to the whole world. We need to learn before we teach, to listen before we talk”.
And dialogue among cultures is not just a matter for governments, but also for individuals.
Weeks ago, a great artist of our age passed away. Zaha Hadid was born in Baghdad, educated in Beirut, and became a world-class architect in London. Such a mix of influences made her art great.
The example set by Hadid highlights the reason why the EU has to encourage cultural exchanges, particularly among the younger generations. We all have something useful to share for the sake of our coexistence in a diverse and complex world.
Therefore, the EU will further finance 11,000 researchers a year to work outside Europe; and 15,000 researchers from outside Europe to join us by 2020. Moreover, the EU will finance over 25,000 scholarships per year and some 170 joint projects between EU and non-EU universities – this is to promote student and staff exchanges.
This comes as no surprise. Culture in EU external relations is one of the three pillars of the European Agenda for Culture (2007).
In the cultural and creative sectors, the EU has already funded many projects such as creative hubs networks or the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Cultures+ programme and the programmes to support cultural governance and promote intercultural dialogue. The Creative Europe programme is also open to neighbourhood and enlargement countries.
Promoting culture is the right way to move forward. And the European experiment has proved that culture builds bridges of tolerance and prosperity.