Cultural diversity

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Round II of UNESCO Talks : An Interesting Proposal from the EU !

Coalition Currents , Vol. 3, No. 2, February 2005 – 2005/02

This Canadian Coalition for Cultural Diversity’s publication examines the Second Session of the Intergovernmental Meeting of Experts . In its analysis, the publication finds that If UNESCO’s Member States managed to discuss 29 of the Convention’s 30 articles in the course of the February negotiations, this in no way means that the wording of these articles has been locked in place. Major negotiations remain. This is made very clear in the reworked wording of articles 1 through 11 prepared by the drafting committee. The new articles are extensively bracketed and footnoted, signalling concepts central to the convention that remain the focus of intense debate among member states.

According to the publication, the repeated bracketing of the words “protect”, “protection”, “cultural goods and services”, and “cultural contents and expressions” will clearly highlight the continuing opposition from a limited number of Member States to a convention that would clearly affirm the sovereign right of countries to pursue policies designed to support healthy levels of domestic cultural creation and production. In this respect, in his concluding report on the second negotiations session, rapporteur Artur Wilczynski acknowledged the gulf that remains to be bridged : « We must be realistic that there is a fundamental challenge before us. There are clear differences that remain that must be bridged. These differences are illustrated by the number of square brackets and footnotes that exist in the draft prepared by the Drafting Committee ».

The publication notes that several key issues will remain to be resolved at the final meeting in May. One major debate still to come concerns Article 19, the only article for which two options were originally proposed in the preliminary draft text. A majority of the Member States taking a position on this article in their written comments last November supported Option A, which would provide some limited potential for countries to derogate from prior international agreements in order to take action to address situations where cultural diversity was vulnerable or at risk. But a significant number of other countries support B, which states flatly that there can be no derogation. Throughout the February negotiations, there was much discussion of a possible “third way” for dealing with the question of the convention’s relationship to other instruments. At meeting’s end, the EU circulated such a proposal informally, but discussion on the proposal will have to wait until the May meeting. The EU proposal will have to be reviewed carefully, but at first glance it looks promising. It is not so much a compromise between the two existing options as a different approach:

  • « Contracting Parties shall protect and promote appropriately diversity of cultural expressions in international instruments that could affect cultural diversity.
  • Bearing in mind the specificity of cultural goods and services, Contracting Parties shall respect, in interpreting and applying international instruments, the provisions of this Convention.
  • Contracting Parties shall foster mutual supportiveness between this Convention and other international instruments.
  • This Convention shall not be subordinated to other international agreements. Neither shall other international agreements be subordinated to this Convention ».

A related question, also unresolved, is whether this new 19 is intended to incorporate the obligations currently addressed in Article 13, undertaking States Parties to uphold the objectives of the convention in other international agreements. Moreover, the publication notes that the much more focused nature of the February negotiations had the effect of making the attempts of the United States to delay and dilute the convention process much more clear. The U.S. often found little support in plenary, but nonetheless used all of its considerable weight in the drafting sessions to slow progress to a crawl. Frustration with U.S. obstructionist tactics became so pronounced that by meeting’s end a few drafting committee members were openly expressing their view that the time was coming to force a vote on key articles of the convention. It may be clear to delegates who spent 11 days in a room with the United States attempting to stonewall progress at each stage of the discussions that they will never vote to adopt, let alone ratify, a meaningful convention. But back in national capitals, extensive discussion may be necessary before governments will come to this conclusion as well

Deciding to force a vote will be no small matter, particularly in the culture of UNESCO, which attaches such great importance to consensus, points out the publication. In the event of a vote on adoption of a convention, UNESCO rules stipulate that two-thirds of its Member States must vote in favour. But in this case, it is clear that the majority will have to be even more decisive if countries are to proceed without the United States—in the months ahead, it will critical to ensure that a critical mass of countries do not rally to the U.S. in opposing the convention. The stage is now set for a critical debate when the third meeting convenes on May 23. The issues outlined above will be on the table, along with the key question of what type of dispute settlement mechanism will be built into the convention.

In addition, the International Liaison Committee of Coalitions for Cultural Diversity (ILC) points out that the next three months represent a critical window for organizations representing artists, creators and all cultural professionals to weigh with their position regarding the convention - a position that should be communicated not only to ministers responsible for culture, foreign affairs and international trade, but even at the head of state and government level. Because the internal debates within each government are likely to be in the end resolved by a decision by each country’s President or Prime Minister. If artists and cultural professionals are to get a truly effective convention, the time to weigh in on these debates is now. [05-06]