Cultural diversity

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Les Rencontres pour l'Europe de la culture réaffirment la place essentielle de la culture dans la construction européenne et la préservation de la diversité culturelle

Présidence de la République française, Paris, le 4 mai 2005 – 2005/05/04

On May 2 and 3, 2005, under the patronage of the president of France and at the initiative of the minister of culture and communication, 800 European artists (intellectuals, culture industry stakeholders), some 15 European ministers of culture, 20-odd French and European parliamentarians and nearly 300 journalists gathered in Paris to “participate through their personal accounts, contributions, and proposals in the edification of cultural Europe.” The Paris Meetings for Europe and Culture event followed on the “A Soul for Europe” conference held in Berlin on November 26 and 27, 2004, at the initiative of German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, which led to a draft charter signed by the 17 EU member states (See our newsletter, No 5 of April 4, 2005). “Along with the need to invest Europe with a cultural identity so that is not just governed by economic considerations, member states understood that culture has become a battlefield where the U.S.-Europe rivalry comes to head.” States defending the cultural exception principle do so on the conviction that “culture is not just a commodity like any other.”

In organizing the Paris meeting, culture officials drew on the results of four workshops by professionals asked to develop concrete proposals for all fields of artistic endeavor, from theater and dance to film and publishing. After Berlin and Paris, further Meetings for Europe and Culture will be held in Budapest, Hungary, in November 2005; Madrid, Spain, in 2006; and Lisbon, Portugal, in 2007. According to the press release issued by the French government after a cabinet meeting to discuss the event, fourteen ministers have signed the European Cultural Charter. The document reaffirms their commitment to protecting cultural and linguistic diversity as well as the following principles: recognition of the specificity of cultural and audiovisual goods and services, which are not ordinary goods; the right of public bodies to implement policies appropriate for the preservation and development of their cultural and artistic expressions; and the specificity of audiovisual goods and services. These principles apply most notably to trade agreements on cultural and audiovisual services that may affect the cultural and linguistic diversity of the European Union, and require unanimous approval by EU member states.

Culture and communication minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres also presented five areas participants at the meeting identified for priority action: heritage (European heritage label and creation of a joint insurance fund to facilitate circulation of artistic works), film, art education, and dissemination of musical works and promotion of books and translation. In an interview with Le Figaro and La Croix, he described the goal of the meetings as follows: “We need to affirm the vital role that culture plays in building a political Europe at time when people justifiably fear not only the loss of identity, but also standardization, globalization, and even commodification. It was time to reassert the defense of cultural identity and the commitment to openness on the part of all EU member states.

The minister stresses that the European Constitution guarantees the cultural exception, which is the focal point for European ambition: “For years, Europe neglected culture. This is no longer the case. The Constitution now numbers cultural and linguistic diversity and the safeguarding of Europe’s cultural heritage among EU objectives. Adoption of the qualified majority will make it possible to move ahead even more quickly to strengthen Europe’s cultural influence. In any event, were WTO agreements to threaten cultural diversity, France could impose its veto using the unanimity rule.” He also pointed out that reaffirming diversity was the key to protecting film and audiovisual assistance support mechanisms. “In a world fearful of standardization, it is vital to keep the specificities of our culture and heritage in the forefront. We have fought hard to preserve this possibility within the EU.” [05-13]