8th St Petersburg International Cultural Forum - Open Lectures Culture 2.0 – Where is the World Heading?

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Distinguished guests,


Ladies and gentlemen,





We have heard interesting analysis so far about the way in which the world is changing and the relationship between that change and culture.


For example, we have had very specific examples relating to technological development and the way in which this opens up new facets of culture to new audiences.


That is certainly very welcome.


But as much as our societies and culture are changing, the philosophy that underpins them need not.


We still live in a world of values – values that are not washed away at speed, but rather continue to shape the future of culture in a positive way.


Indeed, within both Europe and the world, they have the capacity to influence the future of our cultural life in new and positive ways.


As Deputy Secretary General, and throughout my career at the Council of Europe, I have always been aware of the contribution that culture makes to the common purpose of our now 47 member states.


Our Statute, signed 70 years ago, commits our Organisation to ensuring greater unity in Europe.


But the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law are inseparable from the European culture in which these have taken root.


And the cultural pursuits that prosper in Europe today show both the diversity of our experiences and the common threads that bind these together.


Our European Cultural Convention was an early statement of the Organisation’s intent.




Adopted in 1954 it set out to develop mutual understanding among the peoples of Europe and reciprocal appreciation of their cultural diversity, to safeguard European culture, and to promote national contributions to Europe's common cultural heritage.


To this day, the Convention contributes to concerted action by encouraging cultural activities of European interest.


But in the intervening years, our understanding of culture and how to protect and promote it has evolved.


And the Council of Europe has produced a wide range of conventions, guidelines and tools that reflect that evolution of thought and our capacity for action.


But today I want to limit my comments to three specific, contemporary areas in which our approach can help ensure that culture continues to enhance European identity and European unity.


The first of these is our work to end the illicit trade of artefacts in and through Europe – including so-called blood antiquities.


This is an age-old problem in our continent, and around the world.


Offences against cultural property are widespread and take many forms:


The theft of art; the illicit trade in cultural material; the unlawful excavation of tombs and mausoleums; the removal of archaeological artefacts; the illegal export, import and acquisition of cultural goods in the arts market; the falsification of documents; and the destruction or irreparable damage of monuments, some of which are on the World Heritage List.


All of these crimes are well known to us, and form part of a system that is interwoven with money laundering, terrorist funding, and organised crime.


This must stop.


Cultural heritage belongs to the groups, communities and societies from which it derives.


People find their identity in their art and history, and they have a right to enjoy their own heritage.


The theft, degradation and destruction of their cultural property is therefore not only a financial loss – important though that is.


It is also an assault on their collective memory and their human rights, and it leaves a gaping wound.


In recent years we have witnessed a range of high-profile, and heart-breaking examples of these cultural crimes, which often thrive in times of conflict and war.


It was this that led to the “Namur Call” of 2015 by European Ministers of Culture, speaking out about the need for action to protect cultural property.


The Council of Europe understood the moral urgency, and the Nicosia Convention on Offences Relating to Cultural Property is our response.


This treaty breaks new ground.


It is primarily a criminal law instrument.


It contributes to a coherent international legal regime by which to harmonise domestic legislation on criminal offences relating to cultural property.


And it sets welcome minimum standards of protection that States Parties must meet, creating an effective punitive dimension at the international level.


Opened for signature in 2017, this treaty is still young.


It has twelve signatures and two ratifications, one of which is by Mexico.


In itself, this is significant.


It demonstrates an understanding by the Mexican authorities that, while the Nicosia Convention was made in Europe, it addresses a problem that crosses
borders around the world and, as such,
we are clear that this treaty is open to governments from every continent.


But the time to act is now.


We are ambitious to move forward, attract more signatures, and achieve more ratifications, so that better, more effective, co-ordinated action can take place.


This is a movement away from simply protecting heritage and towards actively recognising both its value to society at large and the rights of citizens and local authorities to have a say in the management of their cultural property.


And it has the potential to create greater cultural security than we have known in centuries.


The second unique way in which the Council of Europe is reconceptualising the role of culture on our continent is by democratising it:


By finding ways to open up our cultural past and present, sharing these among people from different backgrounds, and thereby revealing real unity in an era of dangerous populism.


We have a number of programmes that do just that.


But perhaps the best example is our Cultural Routes programme.


Catalysed by the Santiago de Compostela Declaration of 1987, today there are 39 certified Cultural Routes, winding through all 47 of our member states and beyond and promoted by almost 2,000 members of our networks.


And the number of routes and participants continues to grow.





Each transnational Route is based on a specific theme and those who follow them can expect to discover not only monuments, historical artefacts and archaeological sites, but landscapes, local produce and practices as well as traditions, beliefs and narratives.


Through these creative, multidisciplinary, intercultural exchanges links are forged between history and heritage on the one hand and contemporary art and culture on the other.


They are a creative bridge between the past and our present, built by means of democratic participation.





Those who participate come from a wide variety of backgrounds, meaning that through intercultural dialogue, Europeans – including many young Europeans – can learn about the individual contributions of people, communities and countries to a greater cultural whole.


This kind of exchange which shows Europe at its best: not simply talking about the need to build an open, plural and cohesive identity, but putting in place the mechanism through which citizens shape that identity for themselves, from bottom up.


Importantly, Cultural Routes contribute directly to local development too.


Because the Programme reaches out to local SMEs and supports their contribution to the local economy – especially in less-developed, rural areas – we can generate tourism that enhances the cultural well-being of visitors and the economic well-being of residents alike.


The third novel approach that we are taking is our approach to understanding the impact of digitisation on European culture.


Because digitisation continues apace and must be accompanied by enlightened cultural policies.

The 2013 Ministerial Conference on Culture highlighted the importance of users’ individual and collective needs regarding digital media.


In response the Council of Europe is dedicating itself to developing such policies by offering a multi-stakeholder platform for the exchange of experience and good practice to policy-makers, leading researchers, practitioners and civil society.


These events provide insights from which the Council of Europe can take inspiration for its policies and guidelines for our member states:


Action intended to further our commonly agreed European standards.

As a result, we had a 2016 Committee of Ministers’ Recommendation on the Internet of Citizens, focusing on the modernisation of cultural institutions, the empowerment of citizens as consumers and creators, and the fostering of multi-literacy skills education for the access, creation and management of digital culture.


We had a 2017 Recommendation on Big Data for Culture, Literacy and Democracy, stressing that everyone should have the choice to remain inscrutable in the digital era and not be subject to algorithmic predictions about their cultural attributes.


And we had a 2018 Recommendation on Culture’s contribution to strengthening the internet as an emancipatory force, emphasising the potential of digital culture and arts as a means of fostering digitally and democratically competent and creative citizens.


Our member states apply these at the national level to the benefit of all.

Finally, last year we also hosted an expert seminar on Culture, Creativity and Artificial Intelligence.


This considered the impact of AI on culture, whether it might open up new creative concepts, and how it impacts on the perception of human creativity.


AI has the potential to enhance the way we live our lives, but it also poses important ethical questions that impact on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.


So, I am pleased that last spring’s Ministerial Session in Helsinki tasked our Committee of Ministers with examining the feasibility and potential elements of a legal framework for the development, design and application of Artificial Intelligence.


This is about ensuring that AI works to support people’s rights, rather than undermine them.


Its deliberations will apply to all areas of our work, including of course, culture.


Ladies and gentlemen,


It is difficult to predict the future – especially if we try to second guess creative and cultural trends in an era of rapid technological change.


But we can act to ensure that such change takes place within certain parameters:


The Council of Europe does not want to restrict or direct culture – even if that were possible.


Rather, we want it to flourish in the context of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.


The three areas of our work that I have explained today are examples, but they are important ones.


We can break with the past, end offences relating to cultural property and empower those to whom that culture belongs.

We can continue to illuminate the tangible and intangible cultural routes that bring us together in diversity and reveal the European and international identities that underpin our living experience.


And we can prepare ourselves in such a way that AI and new technology open our eyes to new creative experiences, safe in the knowledge that our rights are intact.


These things are possible if we work together, here in Europe – and also beyond.


Thank you.