French Community of Belgium, Brussels, October 21, 2005 – 2005/10/21
The day after the “historic” vote at UNESCO on the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, three ministers from Belgium’s French-speaking community—Minister-President Marie Arena, minister of culture Fadila Laanan, and minister of international relations Marie-Dominique Simonet—invited the press to celebrate its adoption. They pointed out the important role their community played in adopting this agreement despite the strong American lobby, and praised the behind-the-scenes work of their experts. “But,” they stated, “this extremely important defensive Convention, which allows our cultural identity to continue to be subsidized, is not an end in itself. We must not let our guard down, because the Convention must still be ratified by at least 30 countries in order for it to come into effect. This may seem self-evident, but the American lobby could go all out and succeed in swaying a few national parliaments.”
There is no fixed deadline, but 2010 is the cutoff date set by the WTO for cultural exemption. In the meantime, parliamentary majorities can change. Obtaining 30 ratifications is likely, but whether they come from “significant” countries is another matter. “In Belgium, where parties of every persuasion support it, the timetable will be one year,” they stated. “Are the 25 European Union countries sure to ratify it? Some are divided, such as Great Britain and Germany, while in the East, there is still much uncertainty. While Condoleeza Rice hit a nerve by writing that “the Convention violates human rights,” the U.S. is using every means available and will continue its fierce boycott to save Hollywood profits.”
“Offensive” measures must also be taken to support culture, because what is the point of a convention that preserves cultural diversity if countries have no cultural productions to offer?, the three ministers wonder. To start with, this means supporting the cultures of the poorest countries and those most threatened by the globalization of culture. In this regard, Belgium agreed in Paris to take part in a Cultural Diversity Support Fund for developing countries. “Participation in this fund will be voluntary,” explains Ms. Simonet. “But I believe that despite our budgetary difficulties, we must be consequential and contribute.” The other challenge consists of “continuing the work across Europe to prevent a new draft of the Bolkenstein directive from putting culture in Europe back solely into the trade arena. Here, too, we must be consistent and make the 25 member countries understand that if they vote in favor of the Convention at UNESCO, they must apply the same policy in Europe.”
Ms. Fadila Laanan also points out that “It is not a question of being opposed to American cinema, which everyone loves, but of allowing creatives from our countries—and others—to make themselves known as well! Cultural diversity enriches the spirit.” Referring to the results of a public policy that propelled Belgian arts onto the international stage (…), the three ministers pledged their willingness to continue their intense and relentless international lobbying. Minister-President Marie Arena remarked that “though a small country on the international stage, Belgium has considerable influence. Our experts are listened to and our cultural influence is felt. We will continue to fight for cultural diversity... The community plans to act as a catalyst for the other member countries,” she says.