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Dossier: Culture and international cooperation


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“No future without culture”. Placing culture at the heart of international cooperation is essential if we are to make development a sustainable process. ECDPM applies a culturally sensitive approach to development by working on societal dynamics and their interaction with policy-making.

This dossier brings together ECDPM’s work on culture and development. ECDPM connects all those willing to learn or share how to promote development by working in a culturally sensitive way with culture professionals – either through the support of cultural and creative industries of developing countries, enhancing the intercultural communication skills of development practitioners or by implementing culturally sensitive initiatives.

Respect for and the affirmation of cultural diversity, as a form of development, is a goal in itself. It can also foster trade, investment and competitiveness and thereby contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals. Equally, it could promote innovation and development – as envisaged by the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.

For the EU, cultural relations are not only an asset in the race for soft power competitiveness. In times of crisis in Europe, culture in external action has an enabling power, and is an increasingly dominant form of new diplomacy.

The EU has stepped up cultural engagement with the rest of the world, and this can serve the interests as well as the ideals of the EU and its member states. Such engagement would benefit both intercultural dialogue and global solidarity.

The EU is also taking culture more seriously in its development cooperation. As a follow-up to the EU preparatory action on culture in external relations, a new European strategy on culture in external relations is foreseen. While EU institutions will continue to support cultural activities, what is really needed now is more practice and concrete experiments to inform effective action.

Read more:

Latest publications

Investing in culture and creativity: Reflections from the European Development Days
Greta Galeazzi, 9 June 2017, ECDPM Talking Points blog

Mapping of EU funding for culture in the ENP
Damien Helly and Greta Galeazzi, April 2017, Study for the European Commission

What does the European Parliament say about the EU’s international cultural relations?
Greta Galeazzi, 23 March 2017, ECDPM Talking Points blog
In a moment of existential crisis for the European Union, culture might seem an issue of minor importance. Yet, to revitalise the European project, culture and values could play a crucial role at the heart of the major policy debates in Europe.

Culture in EU development policies and external action: Reframing the discussion
Damien Helly and Greta Galeazzi, June 2016, ECDPM Briefing Note 92
This briefing paper casts light upon culture in EU development policies and external action, reviewing discussions around this topic and opening the floor for questions. With the Sustainable Development Goals and new EU strategies in place, how will culture and development objectives meet in practice?

Intercultural integration and communication: An agenda for Europe
Damien Helly, 21 April 2016, ECDPM Talking Points blog
As the EU is about to adopt a strategy on culture in external relations and a Global Strategy on foreign and security policy, Damien Helly argues that both documents would be stronger with the explicit mention of intercultural communication as key vehicle to (re)build trust with the world. He reports on a recent meeting with artists, policy makers and scientists that discussed how Europeans manage to communicate in a context of cultural differences at home and in their foreign and development policies.

Last, but not least: Culture in the spotlight of development agencies
Damien Helly and Greta Galeazzi, 8 September 2015, ECDPM Talking Points blog
A joint communication is being prepared by the European Commission and the European External Action Service on culture in external relations. Beyond supporting cultural activities, what is really needed is more practice and concrete experiments to inform effective action. This multimedia blog looks at the culture-development nexus as discussed at ‘Culture in the Spotlight: Innovative Approaches to Sustainable Development’ – a lab debate held at the 2015 European Development Days.

European contribution to stability and development through external cultural action
Damien Helly and Greta Galeazzi, 20 November 2014, ECDPM Talking Points blog
It is never too late to put trust and culture at the centre of external action, especially in times of conflict. The EU’s external action could make a difference with a modernised and culturally sensitive approach to crises and wars in the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe.

Culture and diplomacy: Europe’s enabling power in an open world
Damien Helly, 13 March 2014, ECDPM GREAT Insights magazine
In an edition with a thematic focus on ‘New Diplomacy and Development’, Damien Helly contributed an article on culture and diplomacy and looked at Europe’s enabling power in an open world. Cultural relations are not only an asset in the race for soft power competitiveness. In times of crisis in Europe, they also represent a potential to be better exploited internationally. Damien emphasises the enabling power of culture in external action as an increasingly dominant form of new diplomacy.

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Latest events

Back to back informal meeting on culture and development (co-organised with More Europe), 17 June 2016
ECDPM and More Europe – external cultural relations convened a policy-oriented, informal meeting under the Chatham House rule gathering European Commission DG EAC and DEVCO, member states (EUNIC Global, British Council, GiZ, Goethe Institute, Institut Français) and a number of Civil Society Organisations in the field of culture and development. The aim of the meeting was to discuss the role of culture in development, in light of the recently published communication “Towards an EU strategy for international cultural relations” as well as debates on culture in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A report co-produced together with More Europe summarises the main outcomes of this event.

Innovative Partnerships for Culture and Sustainable Development (stand at European Development Days 2016), 15-17 June 2016
Culture had a very central role in the 2016 edition of the European Development Days (EDD16). Together with other 7 organisations that deal with culture and development, ECDPM organised a stand dedicated to the links between cultural initiatives and the Sustainable Development Goals. This was just one of the many culture-related panels and events at the EDD16 – a testimonial of the recognition of the role of culture in development. The stand attracted several dozens of visitors, who discovered how culture contributes to sustainable development and engaged in discussions with the experts from the various organisations around topics such as citizen participation, education, and intercultural communication.

A strategy for culture in EU external relations and development policies, 15 June 2016
At the 2016 European Development Days, ECDPM’s Damien Helly moderated a panel about the recent communication “Towards an EU strategy for international cultural relations”, as well as the role of culture for the development community. In front of a full room, speakers discussed with the audience several key issues such as the role of culture within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals and EU development policies. Among the panelists: Aida Liha Matejicek, from the EU DG for International Cooperation and Development; Diego Marani, from the European External Action Service; Walter Zampieri, DG for Education and Culture.

Are we Really Intercultural? – Bozar, Brussels, December 2015
The year 2015 has been a year of discussions and talks on crises within and around Europe. The arts and museums offer opportunities to reflect, via performances, pieces of art and creation, on cultural differences. They also offer space for dialogue between artists, policy makers and science. This round table is one of those, but with a different angle: we will question the very way we all, coming from various cultural contexts, are able or not to communicate and to construct meaning with others. In 2016 the EU will have a new global strategy and a strategy for culture in external relations: how will they address intercultural communication challenges? The panelists were Dr Milton J. Bennett, Androulla Kaminara, Pascal Lamy and Rachida Lamrabet.

The Ecology of Culture: Community Engagement, Co-Creation and Cross Fertilisation – Lecce, October 2015
Greta Galeazzi made a presentation “No sands castles – Earth architecture and peace caravans: Learning from the practice of culture, development and peace in Niger”. The presentation, based on a paper co-authored with Dr Damien Helly, looked at the rationale for multimedia research & storytelling and proposed a methodology to apply it to two culture & development projects by Comitato Internazionale per lo Sviluppo dei Popoli.

Principles and ambitions for cultural mobility – Lisbon, June 2015
We cannot take the same approach to culture and mobility in violent and unstable contexts as we do with supporting culture and mobility in stable settings. Mobility enables the transfer of know-how and skills, meaning the mobility of solutions to current emergencies and challenges, with culture integral to possible solutions. These were the two key messages of a presentation by Damien Helly at a meeting of independent artistic and cultural mobility funds in the Mediterranean and Central American regions at the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon.

Euro-Arab relations and local cultural development – Brussels, February 2015
This seminar was organised in collaboration with the Region of Nord-Pas de Calais and brought representatives of local and regional authorities to exchange with cultural experts from Europe and the Arab world. The debates allowed a sharing of expertise in models of cooperation and governance needed in globalised economies, and enabled the participants to debate and discuss ways of improving the current state of affairs in a sustainable way through effective local policymaking. Damien Helly gave a presentation which is available to download.

The rapid development of China’s public diplomacy: What does it mean for Europe? – Brussels, January 2015
What does the rapid development of China’s public diplomacy mean for Europe? At this event, jointly organised by Madariaga (a College of Europe Foundation) and the Clingendael Institute, Damien Helly was a panelist and gave a presentation on how EU-China cooperation is impressively expanding and deepening, especially in the field of research and innovation. But Damien asks – could this cooperation be culturally deeper? The presentation is available to download.

4th arterial African creative economy conference – November 2014
This conference, attended by Damien Helly, gathered over 250 participants from all over Africa and a variety of cultural sectors to discuss the current trends on the continent. Above all, the aim was to exchange ideas on practice and network to share experiences on how to best work in the cultural field while contributing to development. Details of the 2015 Conference in Yaoundé, Cameroon can be found here.

Rabat Etats Généraux de la Culture – Casablanca, November 2014
Damien Helly attended this event which was organised by NGO Racines, a leading organisation in the cultural field. It gathered 400 participants to debate the results of a 2 and half-year-long process of consultation and stock-taking of the country’s situation in terms of culture and development. A full press kit for the event can be found here.

Maximizing the impact of cultural diplomacy in EU foreign policy – Brussels, April 2014
How can the European Union and its member states maximise the impact of culture in its foreign policy? Androulla Vassiliou, Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, addresses this question at a meeting involving policy makers, cultural organisations, artists and academics from 54 European and non-European countries.

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‘Preparatory Action – Culture in EU External Action’ report

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Motivated by the fact that “the European Union has no cultural relations strategy”, in 2011 the European Commission mandated a consortium of eight cultural organisations, institutes and a consultancies to propose such a strategy.

The ‘Preparatory action – Culture in EU external action’ report presents the first ever overview of cultural relations strategies pursued by governmental and civil society actors in 26 of the EU’s strategic partners and Neighbours. Detailed reports on each of these countries have also been published – of which ECDPM produced fourteen.

The overall report gives constructive, ethical and practical recommendations as to how Europe can do better and be more effective in the field of international cultural relations. Finally, it shows the considerable added value a European strategic approach can offer to all stakeholders, including EU institutions, member states, European cities and regions, civil society actors, artists, cultural operators and cultural organisations and networks – as well as their counterparts elsewhere.

A preview of ‘Culture in EU external relations’
(Courtesy of Slash Prod Bruxelles)

Opening video – Preparatory Action “Culture in EU’s external relations” conference on 7 April 2014 in Brussels
(Courtesy of ‘Culture External Relations’)

Androulla Vassiliou recommends report on ‘Culture in external relations’
(Courtesy of ‘Culture External Relations’)

Follow the ‘Culture in EU external Action’ project on Facebook and Twitter.

Country reports produced by ECDPM:

Algeria’s cultural sector is still caught between a government-led ideological approach to culture and a modernised vision of cultural diplomacy.

Culture in Armenia’s external relations is marked by a contrast between the small size of the country and the considerable influence of its diaspora worldwide. Globalised Armenian diaspora shape cultural relations along two lines – protecting its culture and heritage and opening up the country’s cultural scene to international trends.

Azerbaijani external cultural relations are very much determined by the country’s geographical location, which has allowed it to link Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Russia. Reasserting the image of Azerbaijan has been at the core of cultural relations with the European Union, in parallel to its oil and gas diplomacy.

The cultural landscape of Belarus is fragmented and difficult to identify due to limited transparency, limited freedom of expression and political repression. The Ukrainian crisis has contributed to maintaining tensions in the region, making prospects of enhanced cultural relations even more unpredictable.

With Egypt, the EU has conducted an ambitious range of cultural diplomacy efforts at various levels through bilateral cooperation channels and through a systematic tourism policy that includes heritage as a key component.

The external cultural relations of Georgia have been greatly influenced by post-cold war tensions and the enlargement of the EU. Cultural relations between the Georgian cultural sector and its counterparts in the EU have intensified in the last few years illustrating the strong aspirations of Georgian leadership.

In the last few years, thanks to very effective synergies between Jordan’s creative industries, the European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC) network and some public authorities, a new dynamic has emerged in Jordan for the enhancement of its cultural sector – including its international dimensions.

Lebanon is a small country, and so culture in EU external relations is in fact mostly a non-state activity whose reach extends far beyond Lebanon’s confines.

In the initial period after the revolution, the culture and arts scene in Libya was marked by a phase of euphoria. A number of initiatives, big and small, sprung up in the span of a few years. The mood is nevertheless to some degree sombre owing to the current political situation, but culture is perceived as a pioneering sector in which everything is possible.

Moldova is going through deep change and transformation, speeded up by the prospect of some form of association with the EU and internal aspirations on the part of cultural stakeholders for more and better access to Europe.

Whereas several other Arab countries have experienced uprisings in recent years, Morocco has entered a phase of apparent political modernisation without one. The ways in which its multicultural society and its government engage in external cultural relations are very diverse and evolving rapidly.

The level of violence has forced millions of Syrians to leave their homes and move to neighbouring countries. At present, artists in Syria are faced with constant challenges, from censorship to finding venues to perform or showcase their art. While some are still active in Damascus, many artists and cultural professionals have moved to Lebanon and some to Europe.

Since October 2011, culture and the way it is dealt with in relation to international partners has thus become part and parcel of the Tunisian political chessboard.

In Ukraine, the practice of culture in external relations is fragmented between a variety of non-state initiatives, including several philanthropic foundations as well as dynamic cities. Efforts to bring Europe to Ukraine and to give Ukrainians access to Europe will only bear fruit slowly, and the 2014 political and security crisis has opened a new phase of uncertainty.

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Latest videos

Alma Salem – British Council
Alma Salem, the MENA Regional Arts Programmes Manager at the British Council, joined ECDPM at the 2015 European Development Days. Alma discussed her work in Beirut and the Syria Third Space exhibition she co-curated at the European Parliament.

Alma Salma talked about the main challenges for culture in development and the windows of opportunity for culture in the implementation of the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals.

She was also a panelist on the EDD15 Lab Debate ‘Culture in the spotlight: Innovative approaches to sustainable development’ organised by the British Council and chaired by Damien Helly.

Sandro De Luca – International Committee for the Development of Peoples
At the 2015 European Development Days we also spoke to Sandro De Luca of the International Committee for the Development of Peoples (CISP).

Sandro De Luca discussed the main policy challenges for integrating culture into development and the possible entry points for culture into the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

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 Dossier photo – Courtesy of Albert González Farran, UNAMID via Flickr.