Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Culture is chefsache: Without its culture, Europe would not exist

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By Lars Ebert, Secretary-General, Culture Action Europe, Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović is Secretary-Genera, Europa Nostra, André Wilkens, Director, European Cultural Foundation

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Culture needs a strong vice president and European Commissioner. It should not just appear in the small print of the job description, Lars Ebert, Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović and André Wilkens write.

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Europe stands at a critical juncture, facing war, division, and polarization which are eroding the very fabric of our societies.

As decades of peace and European cooperation are threatened, the European Union’s fundamental purpose seems increasingly forgotten amidst growing societal inequality and the misuse of culture and identity to divide communities.

It’s a time when we must not only react to these challenges but actively reimagine and rebuild the future of Europe with culture at its core.

2024 is an extraordinary year in world history and for Europe. With more than 4 billion people being called to the pools in 77 different countries, voters’ distrust of democracy and its institutions has never been greater.

Distrust in institutions can push citizens to turn towards political forces that support the adoption of illiberal agendas. This is also true for Europe.

The European Parliament elections have significant weight in this context. The choices of today will shape the world of tomorrow.

If Europe does not gear up its capacity to act together – as a community of shared values but also shared political, military, economic, social and cultural interests, it risks fading away as a relevant and powerful actor and credible partner. Why does culture matter? 

A beacon of hope and sanity

Europe is a product of a culture of exchange. Diversity is a matter of life. It is not always easy to manage, but without it, a meaningful life in Europe would not be possible, and it would be boring.

We believe in the power of human dignity and ingenuity, whether as a response to the suffering of people who need our solidarity or as a response to the challenges of unbound technology.

We believe in freedom, in the freedom to express oneself, in the freedom of conscience, the freedom of movement, the freedom of the media, the freedom to challenge those in power, and the freedom to resist oppression, regression, and destruction.

We believe in the power of hope, curiosity and optimism. While this alone is not enough, a better world is not possible without it.

In times of crisis, such as the ongoing war at Europe’s eastern borders and during the COVID-19 pandemic, culture has proven to be a powerful force of resilience. From singing on balconies to engaging with books and films, culture has helped maintain our sanity and foster a sense of community and belonging.

This resilience underpins the reasons to fight for freedom, dignity, and plurality, providing not only solace but also a rallying cry for unity.

A better Europe is possible

Culture is not just about preserving heritage or the arts; it challenges the status quo by providing a space for diverse voices to be heard, countering narratives that fuel division and extremism.

Culture can demystify digital technology and serve as an antidote against the misuse of artificial intelligence. It is the source of creativity needed to address today’s problems and to imagine tomorrow’s solutions.

Culture can provide the imagination and the stories we need to foster a true European sentiment, a sense of purpose, and a sense of belonging.

With such sentiment, a better Europe is possible; without it, Europe is vulnerable to disintegration.

Let’s seize this moment to harness the power of culture and craft a new narrative for Europe, one that is rooted in human dignity, ingenuity, and a shared sense of purpose. Europe needs new utopias, and through culture, we can aspire to create them.

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Imagine Europe without its culture. It is unimaginable. It would be a Europe emptied of its creativity, vitality and future.

And still, it is the fundaments of our culture that are being questioned and contested by an increasing number of internal and external political forces.

Europe does not only need to resist these disruptive forces but invest in counter-narratives and positive actions that unite rather than divide our societies. The cultural battles are fought in our universities, media and social media.

The EU lags behind in its understanding of culture and its pivotal role in nourishing a sense of purpose and togetherness. Imagine the European Union without culture. This is almost a reality.

Although it contributes 4% to the European Union’s GDP, only 0,2% of the EU budget is invested in culture (as a comparison, agriculture contributes 1,4% and receives 19%).

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Institutionally, culture is nested in the large portfolio of a European Commissioner responsible for innovation, research, education, youth and culture.

A Cultural Deal for Europe is a must

To counter inequality, populism, climate change, and technological advances, the role of culture must be elevated on the political agenda and in public opinion.

This is a call to action rooted in hard facts. Culture needs to be on top of the agenda for the next European Commission — not just in Sunday speeches and PR videos but in policy priorities and budgets. We need a Cultural Deal for Europe.

This Cultural Deal must not only support our artists and creators, ensuring fair working conditions and protecting their rights in the digital age, but also foster a cultural ecosystem that drives innovation, enhances well-being, and strengthens our democratic fabric.

It requires bold action, unwavering commitment, and a substantial increase in funding. 

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And this Culture Deal for Europe needs a champion, someone who feels responsible and committed. This should be the commission president in the first place.

Culture is chefsache — the overarching top matter supporting defence policies, the green transition, AI regulations, trade and migration.

But a European Commission president needs strong vice presidents and commissioners to support the EU’s future strategic priorities.

Culture needs a strong vice president and European Commissioner, too. And culture should not just appear in the small print of the job description.

It should be at the top of it. Seriously. 

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Lars Ebert is Secretary-General of Culture Action Europe, Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović is Secretary-General of Europa Nostra, and André Wilkens is Director of the European Cultural Foundation.

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