Conférence des Ministres européens responsables des Affaires culturelles - 20 - 22 octobre 2003 - Opatija, Croatie 

(Version anglaise)

(Seul le texte prononcé fait foi)

Address given by Jean-Pierre Blais, Assistant Deputy Minister, International and Intergovernmeal Affairs, Department of Canadian Heritage, Canada.

Mr. Chairman; Ministers; Excellencies; Madame Director; Ladies and Gentlemen.

On behalf of Minister Sheila Copps, who unfortunately had to return to Canada, I would like to thank the Minister of Culture of Croatia and his team for graciously hosting this important gathering. It is a truly beautiful venue, which gave rise to a rich and fruitful discussion over the past few days.

I would like to acknowledge some of the INCP members who have joined us this morning: Trinidad and Tobago; Zimbabwe; South Africa; Senegal; India; as well as the representatives from the INCP Liaison Bureau.

I would also like to thank the Culture Department of the Council of Europe for giving all of us the opportunity to share our perspectives on the importance of enhancing international cooperation and dialogue in the area of culture.

It is indeed a privilege for me to address this joint Ministerial meeting of the International Network on Cultural Policy and the Council of Europe. As many of you know well, these past couple of weeks have been historic in the evolution of international cultural cooperation.

The decision taken by the UNESCO General Conference to advance cultural diversity through pursuit of a convention on the diversity of cultural contents and artistic expressions represents a watershed moment for many of us.

Thanks in large measure to the work of both the INCP and the Council of Europe, the international community as a whole has decided – by consensus – to move forward on the elaboration of a convention that would preserve and promote cultural diversity.

As we sit here today in this beautiful city, both the INCP and the Council of Europe can look back on what they have achieved with the knowledge that we collectively have had a profound impact on cultural policy around the globe.

While looking back can indeed be gratifying – especially when you have achieved a great deal – the strength of both of these organizations is their ability to look forward to the future.

That is precisely what we need to do now: to turn our attention firmly toward the future and learn from our successes and channel this knowledge into sustained dialogue on cultural policy questions leading to effective policy development by Ministers of Culture.

Each of our organizations – the Council and the INCP – have unique roles, abilities and strengths. Within their structures these organizations are able to react effectively to the challenges facing Ministers of Culture.

While there are many distinguishing characteristics between the Council and the INCP, both of their key strengths are the diversity of their memberships. What is an even greater strength, and an element that makes the discussion about the relationship between the two so fundamentally important, is the great number of INCP members who are also members of the Council of Europe.

The ability of Ministers of Culture to participate in the informal, free flowing discussions of the INCP, while simultaneously bringing these ideas through the rigors and discipline of a formal regional body – linked to the overall agenda of modern Europe – is indeed an advantage.

Canada’s ability to participate in the deliberations of the Council as an Observer State also enables us to benefit from the complementary nature of these two organizations.

Some of you will no doubt recall, when the INCP was created in 1998 in Ottawa, it was formed as an informal, international venue where national Ministers of Culture could explore and exchange views on new and emerging policy issues.

It was established as a place where Ministers could speak frankly outside the constraints of formal international organizations. Ministers were free to interact, unscripted and with few officials, and discuss issues that were on their direct agenda. While it has evolved over the years, it remains a place where Ministers can speak frankly about their priorities.

It is this informality that is the INCP’s strength. Ministers can and do respond directly to the concerns they hear from the people they represent on issues directly related to their mandates.

Ministers have the flexibility to brainstorm and discuss how they can respond to issues as diverse as international trade, security and human rights.

INCP members are examining the growing importance of cultural diversity and identity in an increasingly globalized world. Globalization poses a range of challenges.

Changing demographics, trade liberalization, new communications technologies and industry consolidation are highlighting the importance for Ministers of Culture to work in partnership and to exchange ideas on how each country can maintain and support its own identity and creative spirit.

The challenge of globalization is that it is an evolving and ever-changing phenomenon. We cannot predict what new challenges it will bring to the public policy table.

What we do know is that it is important for the international community to have the mechanisms through which it can respond quickly, with flexibility and determination.

The ability to respond is essential if governments are to maximize the benefits of globalization, while mitigating its negative effects.

Effective participation of Ministers in the INCP and the Council of Europe give them the range of policy tools they need to address the challenges before them.

On the one hand, Ministers can quickly identify the specific issues that they want to address. They can, in a sense, “test-drive” ideas and proposed solutions in an environment that demonstrates the possibilities of cooperation without binding themselves to normative, legal accords. That is the benefit of the INCP.

Once discussions progress to a certain level, they need to move on to the important, structured, thoughtful and refined rigor of a formal intergovernmental organization – precisely the mandate of the Council of Europe.

The Council of Europe, as described by the Deputy Secretary General, has the ability to examine questions of cultural policy in great depth and through the lens of both academic and professional examination. Through holding these colloquies or commissioning important studies such as the “Transversal Study on Cultural Diversity” – which Canada was pleased to participate in – the Council of Europe demonstrates a depth of expertise that is perhaps unique for a regional intergovernmental body.

The partnership between the Council of Europe and the INCP enables States to respond to these new challenges and to build important relationship with each other and with other regional groups of states.

Canada has benefited greatly from this relationship. Participation in both of these organizations has enabled us to gain a better understanding of cutting edge European policy development in the cultural field. We have benefited from making direct links with delegations from across Europe. This has helped forge strong bilateral ties and has enabled us to develop important networks that have proved valuable in other fora such as the UN and UNESCO.

We look forward to continuing this relationship as an essential part of Canada’s international cultural relations.

We believe that the agenda that the Council of Europe has set for your series of Ministerial colloquies – the roles of Ministers of Culture in promoting inter-cultural dialogue – is fundamentally important given the current nature and state of international relations.

Conflicts – both within and between states – have a virulence and tone that takes in challenging and difficult characteristics linked to identity, ethnicity, language and religion. Misunderstandings – too often couched in rhetoric as a clash of civilizations – need to be directly addressed. We believe that culture and cultural policy can and must play a positive role in building the bridges between individuals, communities and peoples.

For millennia, cultural expression has played a quintessential role in fostering better understanding between peoples. Music, performing and visual arts, museums, films all can play a part in building a common vocabulary where dialogue can grow into understanding and respect. Culture can be a vehicle of rassemblement; the glue that brings a country together.

In Canada, we have reached out to minority communities by fostering an inclusive national vision of our country: one built on common values and a shared citizenship. Our goal is to ensure that all people can participate equally and effectively in the political, economic, social and cultural lives of their community.

Participating in cultural life is no less significant than other aspects of citizenship. Governments need to encourage and play an active part in ensuring that all members of the community can see themselves and their reality reflected in the cultural expression of their country. Ministers of Culture have a key role to play in achieving these objectives at the national level.

From our point of view, we also believe they have a key role to play in fostering this type of understanding at the international level.

Exposure to different cultures and forms of cultural expression should be a key aspect of global strategies to prevent conflicts and as key tools in post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation.

The Council of Europe and our Croatian hosts have already done significant work on this issue. As part of advancing global dialogue on building cultural cooperation and preventing conflict, we can and should build on the work in Europe by engaging Ministers from other regions in this important discussion.

Ladies and Gentleman, the agenda is broad and the challenges significant.

Nevertheless, we believe that the work both the INCP and the Council can achieve together is great. We look forward to hearing from all of you on how we can effectively build on that relationship in a manner that firmly cements cultural policy discussions on the global stage. This joint session between the INCP and the Council of Europe has been a wonderful first step and we are sure that our INCP colleagues will welcome a more formalized collaboration to move our shared agenda forward.

Thank you.