Cultural diversity

News Releases / Speeches / Declarations

Adoption of the Convention of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions at UNESCO : “A first of its kind in international relations, and the basis of a new pillar of world governance in cultural matters”

European Union, Brussels , October 20, 2005 - 2005/10/20

On October 20, 2005, the 33rd UNESCO General Conference adopted the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, which was negotiated jointly by the European Commission on behalf of the Community and by the Council Presidency on behalf of member states. The Convention is the first of its kind in international relations, as it enshrines a consensus that the international community has never before reached on a variety of guiding principles and concepts related to cultural diversity. This text forms the basis of a new pillar of world governance in cultural matters, declared the Union European in a memo released last October 21.

The European Community, through the European Commission and as per the mandate conferred by the Council in November 2004, negotiated alongside the member states at UNESCO, with the incumbent Council Presidency (the three successive Presidencies being the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and the United Kingdom) at the helm throughout the process. This classic modus operandiis used whenever the competences at stake in given international negotiations are shared between the Community and the member states. The common positions expressed by either the Commission or the Presidency, depending on the subject under discussion, were fully coordinated throughout the negotiations. The European Community’s involvement in negotiations on a normative text at UNESCO was the first of its kind. The European Union was able to participate for the first time and speak with a single voice as a key player in the UNESCO negotiations. The European Parliament, and above all its Committee on Culture, followed these negotiations closely and supported the Community’s approach throughout the process.

According to EU, for which preserving and promoting cultural diversity are among the Community’s founding principles, the UNESCO Convention sets out common rules, principles, and points of reference for cultural diversity at a global level. It is the first time the international community has been able to reach such a consensus on these questions. The text makes a considerable contribution to recognizing the role and legitimacy of public policies in protecting and promoting cultural diversity, to recognizing the importance of international cooperation and promoting this to deal with cultural vulnerabilities, especially in developing countries, and to defining appropriate links with other international instruments that enable the Convention to be implemented effectively. Moreover, the Convention represents a new platform for tackling culture in the wider context of sustainable development.

The EU goes on to stress that the text of the convention is a new pillar of world governance: The UNESCO Convention makes it possible to fill a legal vacuumin world governance by establishing a series of rights and obligations, at both the national and international levels, aimed at protecting and promoting cultural diversity. This instrument should play a similar role for cultural diversity—and at the same normative level—as the World Intellectual Property Organization conventions, World Trade Organization agreements, World Health Organization agreements, and Multilateral Environment Agreements do in their respective areas. Moreover, the UNESCO Convention is a platform for debates and exchanges on cultural diversity at the international level. It will allow the reality of cultural diversity in the world to be observed and closely monitored, and opinions, information, and best practices to be exchanged between the parties. It will also be possible for the parties to coordinate and consult each other to promote the Convention’s objectives in the other international bodies and to strengthen international cooperation.

The EU is particularly glad to see that the Convention does not call the World Trade Organization (WTO) commitments into question. “There is no objective or effect to remove or exclude cultural goods and services from the WTO agreements. The Convention recognizes the specificity of cultural goods and services and legitimizes domestic and international cultural policies.”

Concerning how this text fits in with WTO commitments, the EU explains that “The Convention is not subordinated to other treaties but on an equal footing with, for example, the WTO agreements. It does not conflict with but complements these other international agreements. The UNESCO Convention will not alter the WTO agreements (which is not possible in any case—only the Organization’s members can do this by following established procedures), but will require parties to consider the objectives of cultural diversity and the terms of the Convention when applying and interpreting their trade obligations, as well as negotiating their trade commitments. The Convention is therefore a considerable step forward in protecting and promoting cultural diversity at international level, including in trade negotiations.”

The EU therefore declares, “There is nothing in the Convention that prejudges the positions that the parties will take in trade bodies. For their part, the Community and member states have a clear position in the WTO on cultural and audiovisual services, which is to preserve their role in maintaining and developing policies in these areas. Within the framework of the Doha Development Round, the Commission indicated that it would not ask for or offer trade commitments in audiovisual and cultural services.”

In conclusion, as regards ratification by the Community—which may become a contracting party, according to the text—the Commission envisages the adoption of a proposal for a Council decision as of this autumn, with a view to approval. Nevertheless, by launching the process towards the implementation of the UNESCO Convention, the Community and its member states will send a clear message of their commitment to cultural diversity. This is the logical continuation of their strong involvement in the negotiations and their desire to work with their partners to promote this principle at international level.