Colloquy on: “European Culture: Identity and Diversity”
8-9 September 2005
Address by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Terry Davis
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Culture is one of the recurrent issues of European policy. In times of euphoria and in times of turmoil, the so-called “makers of Europe” often embark on a quest for the cultural foundations of European unity, the essence of European identity and the boundaries of diversity.
As for the Council of Europe, we are no stranger to this sort of debate. Since the 1980s, the Secretaries General of the Council of Europe have been in the habit of inviting representatives of intellectual and creative spheres of activity to discuss major cultural challenges in a multi-disciplinary and trans-continental perspective: the Orwellian prophesies in 1984, “Interdependence and cultural development” in 1988, Euro-Arab understanding and cultural exchange in 1991, racism and anti-Semitism in 1995, and “the European identity” in a series of three colloquies in 2001 and 2002.
Today’s colloquy is somewhat different because it is one of the string of events devoted both to the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the European Cultural Convention in Paris, and to the development of the future cultural agenda of the Council of Europe.
What happened in Paris in 1954 was a major step in the process of European co-operation. The European Cultural Convention, was signed by 14 states. Now it is a total of 48 states. But numbers are not everything. The fact is that the European Cultural Convention was the first and only comprehensive instrument of international law designed to encourage the development of a European cultural identity, to safeguard European culture, and to promote national contributions to Europe's common cultural heritage. The Convention encourages the emergence of a European cultural space through the study of Europe’s languages, history and civilisation. And as a result, the Council of Europe became the pioneer in enlarging Europe’s cultural geography beyond the Berlin Wall in the late years of the Cold War thus paving the way for political developments.
I should note in passing that the Convention covers a range of policy areas which do not necessarily coincide with the areas of responsibility traditionally held by Ministers of Culture. This breadth will be echoed by your debates today and tomorrow, which will not be restricted to a narrow notion of culture, but will explore the contribution of areas such as education, youth, sport, and both natural and cultural heritage. Indeed, we are already preparing to draw the lessons of decades of experience in a White paper on the Management of Diversity, which will put forward a transversal strategy for developing cohesive and harmonious multi-cultural societies through comprehensive policies in all these fields.
It is certainly true to say (as the chronicler of the first forty years of the Convention, Etienne Grosjean, pointed out) that European cultural co-operation has produced expertise and skills which cannot be boiled down to legal texts alone. The European Cultural Convention has proved itself to be an effective framework for the gradual emergence of a certain approach to cultural and educational issues, whose influence now reaches far beyond the limited sphere of intergovernmental relations. Under the influence of the Convention, the Council of Europe has, like contemporary culture, developed “multiple identities” – an intergovernmental organisation in the classical sense, but also a think-tank and a discussion forum offering a pan-European platform to civil society.
Cultural co-operation has inspired the work of numerous networks promoting the most fundamental human values in Europe and beyond. The Europe of artists and intellectuals, students and scientists, has in many ways advanced faster than the Europe of governments and is a source of inspiration and advice in our search for the tools to build harmonious, tolerant multi-cultural societies.
This is why during these two days I hope that you will not only look at governmental and international domains, but also look, much more radically, at the very basis of cultural practice, at challenges, policy approaches and responses.
Yet it is important to affirm – as the European Ministers of Culture have done in their “Wroclaw Declaration” on the occasion of the 50th anniversary – that the values and principles of the Convention today remain as valid as ever and represent a precious resource for an undivided, democratic Europe.
In their Declaration, the Ministers of Culture also formulated a number of objectives in response to the cultural challenges we are facing today. To develop a sense of shared history and common future; to ensure cultural freedom and manage cultural diversity; to foster intercultural dialogue; to strengthen the cultural dimensions of the European knowledge society; and to create new forms of co-operation with civil society and new partnerships between international organisations – these have all been set down as important tasks for future cultural policies at national and international levels.
But I ask the question. Are these insights correct? Are they the real issues and is the list complete? Or are we - because of the necessity to express general continental trends rather than specific local detail – in danger of over-simplifying complex realities?
Let us also ask ourselves what are the implications of these issues for national policy-making and the action programme of the Council of Europe, in particular in terms of implementing the Action Plan adopted by the Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe member states at their Summit in Warsaw last May. The Summit confirmed the determination of European states to “foster European identity and unity, based on shared fundamental values, respect for our common heritage and cultural diversity” and further inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue. What are the instruments, processes and alliances which would help us to achieve these goals?
These are the challenges for this colloquy. I ask you to look at “Europe” and “culture”, at “identity” and “diversity” in all their various aspects.
And I offer you something in return. In the past, many colloquies of the Council of Europe have suffered from “splendid isolation” and a less than stringent follow-up. It will not be so in this case.
In exactly seven weeks from now the European Ministers of Culture will again come together, this time in Faro in Portugal, to discuss the way forward. The results of this colloquy are item one on the Ministers’ agenda – an opportunity to translate intellectual insights into political commitment and action.
Common sense tells us that not every one of your conclusions during these two days will become reality overnight. But the very fact that the Committee of Ministers has followed closely the preparation of this colloquy over a period of several months shows that European governments are interested in your advice and proposals. For my part, I assure you that as Secretary General of the Council of Europe, I shall work very closely with Mrs Gabriella Battaini, our Director General for Education, Culture and Heritage, Youth and Sport, to press for action rather than words by all our member states.
Before closing, I should only like to express my warmest thanks to the French Minister of Culture and Communication, Mr Renaud DONNEDIEU DE VABRES, and the Mayor of Strasbourg, Mrs Fabienne KELLER, and their respective teams for their support in the preparation and organisation of this colloquy. A particular word of thanks also goes to the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers’ Rapporteur Group on Education, Culture, Sport, Youth and Environment, Ambassador Christian TER STEPANIAN, who has followed the preparations over several weeks, and given us the benefit of his practical advice.
I offer you a final personal thought. If culture is the cement which holds society together, let this colloquy help us to design the mixing machine for Europe.