Cultural diversity

Interview with Véronique Guèvremont

Biographical notes

Véronique Guèvremont is a professor at Université Laval’s Faculty of Law and Institut québécois des hautes études internationales. Ms. Guèvremont is a graduate of Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and has been teaching WTO law and international cultural law since 2006. From 2003 to 2005, she served as an expert for UNESCO’s Division of Cultural Policies during negotiations for the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. In 2008, she co-founded the International Network of Lawyers for the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (RIJDEC) and, since then, has directed a number of studies carried out by members of the network. In recent years, she has collaborated with UNESCO, Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, Québec’s Ministère des Relations internationales et de la Francophonie, and Ministère de la Culture et des Communications. Her most recent research and publications focus on the treatment of cultural goods and services in trade agreements, the cultural aspect of sustainable development, and the preservation of diversity of cultural expressions in the digital age. Véronique Guèvremont is part of UNESCO’s Expert Facility for the 2005 Convention and holds the new UNESCO Chair on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.

Question: On November 17, the very first UNESCO Chair on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions was launched and you are the chairholder.

a. Could you describe your career and tell us what being the chairholder means to you?

Answer: My career path is closely tied to the history of the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (the 2005 Convention). In 1999, while writing my master’s thesis, I left Québec to do two internships in Brussels, one with the European Commission and the other with the Mission of Canada to the European Union. Thanks to my extensive knowledge of European law and politics, I was then recruited by the Québec Government Office in Brussels as a political attaché for European institutions. I was assigned a number of responsibilities, including developing a draft international legal instrument aimed at protecting cultural diversity. I traveled across Europe in search of new support for launching international negotiations to reassert the right of States to develop their own cultural policies. However, this extremely rewarding experience did not distract me from my main career goal, namely earning a Ph.D in international law and joining a Québec university to dedicate my life to teaching and research. So I decided to start my doctoral thesis at Université Paris 1. At the same time, I was recruited by UNESCO as an expert for the Division of Cultural Policies during negotiations on the 2005 Convention, a position I held for two years. When I was hired as a professor by the Faculty of Law at Université Laval in 2006, I used my experience of working for UNESCO to create two new courses in cultural law. While teaching, I also worked on my research, directed students, and organized scientific activities on a number of aspects of the 2005 Convention, all of which I continue to do. My career has also been greatly influenced by professional relationships and friendships that have developed over time, particularly with Ivan Bernier, professor emeritus at Université Laval, who came up with the idea for the 2005 Convention, and with Professor Hélène Ruiz Fabri who was my thesis director, but also advisor for France, the European Union, and La Francophonie during the 2005 Convention negotiation. Obtaining the UNESCO Chair on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions is the result of 15 years of work filled with some wonderful moments.

b. What are the main objectives of the Chair?

Answer: The objectives of the UNESCO Chair on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions are closely related to those of the 2005 Convention. As chairholder, my goals is to generate a high level of reflection on different aspects of the implementation of this crucial legal instrument for the sustainable development of societies, taking into account its objectives and principles, as well as the needs, interests, and concerns of the signatories and civil society. To do this, I will work to establish a cooperative structure for universities and civil society representatives in order to foster the sharing of knowledge and experience and improve stakeholder abilities. I will also encourage teaching and research on implementation of the 2005 Convention, in order to train a new generation of specialized practitioners and researchers in this field, particularly in developing countries. In terms of content, the Chair’s research will focus on four main areas: developing and implementing cultural policies within countries; protecting and promoting the diversity of cultural expressions in international forums other than UNESCO, in particular regarding trade negotiations; working together to strengthen capacity building in developing countries; and incorporating culture into countries’ sustainable development policies. For each of these areas, the Chair will pay particular attention to the impact of digital technology on the diversity of cultural expressions.

Question: How do you see civil society and the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions today compared with 2005 when the Convention was adopted?

Answer: The 2005 Convention was negotiated in large part because of civil society getting involved, which was determined that a legally binding international instrument should be created in order to recognize the dual nature of cultural goods and services and reassert the right of countries to support artists, creators, and other cultural workers. Civil society activism therefore achieved its goal. There’s no doubt that civil society will have to continue fighting for its interests to be taken into consideration and for its concerns to be heard at all levels of governance: local, regional, national, and international. It must continue to be extremely proactive in all trade negotiations that could question the right of states to adopt cultural policies. The Parties to the 2005 Convention acknowledge that civil society has an additional role, which is part and parcel of its activist role, namely that of partner in protecting and promoting diversity of cultural expressions. The implementation of Article 11 of the 2005 Convention, which deals with this issue, led the Parties and the Secretariat to enhance civil society’s role in the work of its governing bodies. For example, from December 2017, civil society will be able to table its own activity report with the Intergovernmental Committee. Such progress is important and civil society must take advantage of this platform to pass on relevant information from its members to the governing bodies of the 2005 Convention and vice versa. The challenges of implementing the 2005 Convention in the digital landscape demonstrate the importance of such a dynamic. The Parties need to update their policies. They are seeking information on new practices that are being developed, but also on difficulties encountered by cultural stakeholders who use digital technology to create, produce, disseminate, distribute, and provide access to a diversity of cultural expressions. Civil society, including the researchers who are studying and documenting the 2005 Convention, needs to work on this. As UNESCO Chair on cultural diversity, I intend to contribute in this way, by working with other civil society representatives in Québec, Canada, and abroad, in order to help states implement the 2005 Convention.

Question: You helped write the preliminary draft operational guidelines for implementing the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions in the digital age. The preliminary draft was submitted to and then adopted by the Intergovernmental Committee in December 2016. How do you think the operational guidelines can help the Parties adopt and implement cultural policies and measures in the digital age?

Answer: In accordance with the 2005 Convention, the Parties have been using the operational guidelines since it was adopted to define their specific rights and obligations. In fact, the operational guidelines are the only legal instrument mentioned in the 2005 Convention for guiding the Parties’ actions. However, although the 2005 Convention applies to the digital landscape, it contains no provisions encouraging the Parties to take the unique nature of this landscape into account when fulfilling their commitments. Yet, the use of digital technologies by artists, creators, and other cultural workers is increasing, and to achieve the goals of the 2005 Convention cultural support policies must be fully adapted to these changes. The operational guidelines are specifically designed to help the Parties in their work. They will undoubtedly become a reference tool in the Parties’ decision making regarding modernizing their existing policies or adopting new measures for protecting and promoting diversity of cultural expressions in the digital age. Within this context, the operational guidelines will supplement and update the 2005 Convention. They will also spur more sharing of best practices and information on how to implement the 2005 Convention in the digital age. They could also lead to the emergence of new forms of cooperation to support developing countries. Lastly, they will help the Parties become aware of the potential impacts of commercial e-commerce agreements on their ability to defend the diversity of cultural expressions in the digital age. Overall, these operational guidelines will reinforce the usefulness of the 2005 Convention, a cultural legal instrument that must evolve to keep pace with an industry that is constantly changing.