Cultural diversity

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France’s Senate Committee on Culture, Education, and Communication looks into the 2005 Convention

On March 10 France’s ambassador and permanent delegate to UNESCO, Rama Yade, addressed the Senate Committee on Culture, Education, and Communication regarding the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. The committee, which is chaired by Jacques Legendre, was seeking to report on the Convention’s progress and question the strategy taken by UNESCO to promote the diversity of cultural expressions. Here is an extract from the address:

“The Convention is a success in and of itself. It represents a major step forward for its principles and has changed how culture is regarded in the international arena. [...] The Convention’s contribution runs deeper than this, however, and has become second nature to the point that it is often forgotten that the Convention made it international law. Cultural goods and services cannot be considered to be mere merchandise, according to the somewhat awkward cultural exception formula. States have the right to implement public cultural policy since the market does not guarantee the optimal allocation of resources in the cultural sector. [...]

The Convention helps promote the creation of more varied cultural industries and networks in the face of ever-greater concentration. How? Between 2005 and 2010, the States Parties drew up the operational guidelines governing the Convention’s application. It was a long but necessary process that gave cause to believe the Convention was temporarily on the decline. Not a bit of it. Its operational guidelines in favor of developing countries are now in place and beginning to work. Strengthening them is a priority. [...]

Article 20 of Convention made its principles clear: “mutual supportiveness, complementarity, and nonsubordination” in relation to other international instruments, including those of the World Trade Organization (WTO). I believe it would be premature to go beyond this, because legal interpretations are not clear: we have no way of knowing how a dispute between WTO and Convention rules would be arbitrated. Some countries are occasionally tempted, under friendly pressure, to give up rights they hold under the Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions when concluding bilateral free-trade agreements. The issues are not limited to the interpretation of the law: they also concern the economy, particularly in the audiovisual goods industry, with the biggest risk being that there are ways round the Convention.

To address this situation, the European Union and France have adapted their own strategies. Whenever possible in our cultural cooperation and exchange agreements, we refer to the 2005 Convention and set out its principles and norms. It is in these ad hoc bilateral agreements that the Convention takes its meaning. [...]

The Convention is still young and has yet to bear all its fruit; it remains rich in potential. Let’s be patient, let’s let time take its course. But we must remain active, especially throughout the Francophonie, to ensure the Convention is properly implemented and bolstered in the face of other international instruments.”

The address can be read in its entirety on the Senate website.