50th Anniversary of the European Cultural Convention


Background Document prepared by the Polish Authorities
Professor Kasimierz Krzysztofek

1. Shared and diverse identity of Europe
2. Cultural diversity, civil society and new citizenship
3. New actors and partners on the European cultural scene
4. Culture and education for a knowledge-based Europe and the information society
5. The Generation shift towards Network Europe

The new scope of Europe

The European Cultural Convention was created in a very different historical context than that of Europe today. In the coming decades the Council of Europe will encounter - in the area of culture broadly defined - new challenges brought about by substantial changes of a varied nature, both positive and negative; including the effects of European integration, globalisation, the democratisation of Central and Eastern Europe, the information and communication technologies and, last but not least, the generation shift. The face of Europe will soon be shaped by generations that do not remember the Cold War and the ideological divisions imposed by the Iron Curtain. This creates a new framework for the Council of Europe's activities. These challenges are numerous, yet five of these seem particularly important and have been addressed in the Wrocław Declaration.

1. Shared and diverse identity of Europe 

When the European Cultural Convention was brought into being the signatory states formed the core of Europe seen as a civilisational formation. They did not ask themselves whether they were Europeans or not; it was evident per se. Today, with 46 member states of the Council of Europe, the new members outnumber the old and we have a new setting which gives importance to the question of European identity. The Council will remain that “of Europe”; and the need for a common denominator of values, resulting from the cultural heritage shared in common, is critical for European cohesion.

The historically formed European identity was the basis of the European Cultural Convention, and united nations with a similar catalogue of values shared a strong conviction that these values are of a universal nature and form the basis of human solidarity. This requires translating the idiomatic identities of European peoples into discursive ones without which it is not possible to understand each other and enable the resolution of our common problems.

Fifty years later, we still believe in the beneficial and universal force of these values yet we are fully aware of many different identities in Greater Europe. If there is any sense in believing in the Pan-European identity it means these plural but multiple and shared identities as a common denominator of values transmitted through education, scholarly and popular interpretation and the memory of suffering as well as glory. Europe needs this set of values to build its cohesion which defends the original vision of Europe undivided in cultural and human terms and continuing to affirm its common heritage.

Regional and transnational identities are as important as the transformations in national ones brought about by redrawing the maps in former Eastern Europe. This places in a new light the right to free choice of belonging to regional and national communities as well as to transnational, European ones. Here, emphasis should be placed on the link between European cultural values and common civic values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, the defense of these is seen by the Council of Europe as the core of its political mission.

A better future for Europe can only be realised if her citizens are able to share their aspirations as an international community. In building such a community, we – the Council and cultural networks of Europe - should learn to experience what we have in common through cross-border co-operation and collaborative engagement.

2. Cultural diversity, civil society and new citizenship 

The Declaration on Cultural Diversity adopted by the Council of Europe in 2000 states that cultural diversity has always been a dominant European characteristic and it therefore remains the central task of cultural cooperation to sustain, protect and promote it. Cultural diversity is expressed in the coexistence and exchange of culturally diverse practices and in the provision of culturally diverse services and products.

Fifty years ago, the European nation states were relatively homogeneous. During the last three to four decades, the scale of their diversity has dramatically increased, first and foremost due to the emergence of new nation states following the break-up of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. This means the emergence of new neighbourhoods and new border areas.

Trans-frontier mobility and migrations constitute another factor making for rich diversity and transforming Europe into a complex system. This complicates the problem of civic integration paired with respect for the “right to be different”. This is what is advocated in almost all the formulated models of desired multiculturalism to be found in international documents. Their recommendations are presented as the highest standard for democracies which wish to make people equal on a civil basis, but without also making them culturally similar. It quite clearly follows that for this diversity strategy, the most desirable form that the influence of global culture could take is one which does not undermine identity-based cultures, the sense of belonging to a community and individual-community relationships. This makes inter-ethnic relations in many cases more complex than inter-state ones. Managing multiculturalism and multi-ethnicity becomes one of the crucial factors in combating exclusion and creating a social order internally and internationally. Hence the question arises of whether the notion of citizenship, dating back to the 19th Century and the sense of belonging should not be revised to be functional for the reality of the new diverse Europe.

The plurality of cultures and languages of Europe has been the cornerstone of the European Cultural Convention. They promise a vibrant diversity but multiply challenges to be faced in forthcoming decades. One of these is the problem of the lingua franca which is critically needed by European networking. At present, this depends on a command of English.

It is becoming critically important for most European countries to learn to live in their new cultural neighbourhood; to acquire intercultural competence and become acquainted with new neighbours, their history, tradition and culture, and destroy definitively the “mental curtain” brought about in the second half of the 20th Century by the iron curtain.

This aims at building new dialogue between civilisations and avoiding cultural clashes which must not replace the ideological division that split Europe during the Cold War.

3. New actors and partners on the European cultural scene 

The European Cultural Convention was signed when the state was the most important actor on the European scene. Over the last 50 years, a great number of new actors and partners have worked – with the Council's encouragement - for the new structure of Europe: NGOs, regions, towns, cultural institutions, social milieux and individual people. They form a dense fabric of the New Europe woven by the free flow of information, knowledge and ideas. An important role in European exchanges is also taken by the private players operating in the area of culture, education, sports and youth. The Council of Europe should promote the new partnerships, and thus the rise of European civil society.

The plurality of actors does not relieve the states from responsibility for the embodiment of the European Cultural Convention in culture, education, youth and sports. The role of governments in our four sectors is defined, to a great extent, by the need to balance the known failures of the market mechanisms, ensuring equity between citizens and social groups and access by all to the cultural resources required for personal freedom and human development. This requires the responsibility of European governments in legislation and co-financing of major initiatives in the four sectors, as well as strengthening their role in the standard-setting and policy cooperation on regulatory functions to secure the public sphere, equal rights and equal conditions for a participatory citizenship.

4. Culture and education for a knowledge-based Europe and the information society 

It is a matter of a few years before the problem of the “last mile” will be resolved and most households, in most parts of Europe, will be connected to the broadband infrastructure. The effect will be a permanent tele-presence of people, events and realities. At stake is how to avoid a digital divide in Europe.

The vitality of national and regional cultures, as well as European culture, depends on the ability to produce and promote cultures and their creators, through the Internet and related culture and knowledge industries. The involvement of the Council of Europe, aimed at protecting cultural identities by securing a high quality and diversity of cultural offer, is fully justified.

As an integral part of the global information society, European countries will face the biggest challenge in trying to include their own culture into world cultural exchanges. This process must avoid any extremes. The first would be a situation when one's own culture is absorbed by the global one, the second being a temptation to protect national culture from foreign influences. In an open society, the second threat seems unlikely, but the first is possible. If it happens, it would damage the conditions for national creativity.

The Council of Europe's mission is to identify those aspects of cultural, educational and youth policies which are in need of special consideration in the context of the knowledge-based societies and the new global economy.

The victorious concept of intellectual property rights has serious implications for the future of sustainable development as defined in relation to culture, education and sports. It affects the possibility of assuring one's self-representation and self-portraiture through one's own culture and meeting the needs of new generations with respect to the production, provision and exchange of different services, products and practices in all four sectors.

Over the last 50 years, the role of culture in societal life and public policies has changed markedly. Emphasis was placed on democratisation and participation as well as the revitalisation of urban space. These functions remained important but new functions have emerged: culture as a factor of economic development, the basis for knowledge and creative industries, creative economy and intellectual properties. There has been a shift from economisation of culture to the re-culturisation of the economy. Culture and cultural diversity have become the cultural capital which is one of the most important resources of the creative economy.

5. The Generation shift towards Network Europe 

Europe is ageing. This, on the one hand, is bringing about important consequences for social and cultural policies and on the other is leading to a shift in the age balance. The future of European cultures and Europe itself will be created by younger Europeans. The culture of young Europeans is increasingly created in social networks and spread among them. These networks have been reinforced by the new information technologies. The cultural activities of young Europeans flow out of institutions and into networks in which the social and cultural capital of Europe is increasingly embodied : networks of self-organisation and self-regulation of people creating cultures.

Do the new cultures promise us A NETWORK EUROPE? – a Europe which offers much more to coming generations than it did to their predecessors, and creates an opportunity that Europe will not be that of a clash of civilisations but of fertile exchanges of values, life-styles and inspirations and not be built only on hierarchies, institutions and markets as was the case until now.

It is worth trying to answer the question about the kind of culture that is emerging in youth networks, the kinds of cultural activities of young people, as well as how young people will feature in European integration and what new institutional forms they will need. From this, we can track future trends of cultural development, catch a glimpse of the kind of future Europe which will be created, and assess how far this will form a continuity, and how much new cultures will change Europe.

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In this new setting, the role of the European institutions and organisations is changing. Considering this, as well as its limited resources, the Council of Europe’s mission lies in inspiring rather than organising these processes. In this way, we exercise our commitment together with European governments to European cultural co-operation and citizenship. We will support all efforts to develop a new strategy of cultural action that enhances mobility, strengthens co-operation, encourages communication and debate, and consolidates trans-national networks; a strategy based on new partnerships. This will be crucial for new European governance. The Council of Europe cannot “go alone” on its major initiatives without such important actors on the international scene as the EU, UNESCO, the OECD, the World Bank and others. This underlines the role of the Council of Europe and its European Cultural Convention it must take on in this new environment including a new institutional framework with other governmental players and spontaneous civil society networks