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A Cultural Dimension to the EU's External Policies From Policy Statements to Practice and Potential

By Rod Fisher
Boekmanstudies Amsterdam, 2007, 168 pp., 19,50, ISBN/EAN: 978-90-6650-087-7

A survey by the Boekman Foundation entitled A Cultural Dimension to the EU's External Policies explores the possibility of introducing a more enhanced cultural component to EU's foreign policy as well as the willingness of member states to support such a project.

The study focuses on six countries that provide a representative sample in terms of geographical spread, population size, history (including the legacy of empires), length of EU membership, economic resources and attitudes towards the Union. The research work was undertaken by national correspondents in the six chosen countries (Denmark, France, Latvia, Poland, Portugal and the UK) and their findings were written up in national reports.

The key findings of the research showed that there was no outright antagonism towards the idea of the EU having a cultural dimension in its external policies, but also that there was no universal enthusiasm for this project. What was found could best be described as a genuine interest and a qualified support. Another important finding that emerged from the study was that few territories were off limits to possible EU action. There seems to be room for the EU to have presence in relations with most of the world, although several of the surveyed countries suggested where priorities might lie, e.g. the Neighborhood Policy countries of Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean rim and Asia. When it came to content priorities, only the French response indicated sectors (language and broadcasting) that were considered "out of bounds" to EU action. The French response was also the only one that indicated those sectors which the EU could prioritize.

Another issue that was addressed were shifts (or the lack of them) in foreign cultural policies of the member states. Given the global impact of the "cartoons" episode, it was surprising that no policy shifts were evident in Denmark. The demonstrations, whether spontaneous or organized from above, against Denmark, became antagonism towards the West in general and Europe and the EU in particular. The need for a coordinated cultural response by the EU to counter and even help prevent similar incidents in the future could hardly seem clearer. The question of damage limitation is not confined to Denmark of course. The sensitive issue of repairing relations with countries outside the EU (especially in the Muslim world) is a challenge recognized by the foreign and international cultural policies of the UK.

Other challenges that were most evident from the surveyed countries were cultural identity in the face of globalization, insufficient financial resources, reduction in staff levels, a lack of appropriate instruments and the absence of clear policies.

Finally, it is encouraging that the surveyed member states appear more open today to cultural cooperation with other EU countries in the delivery of their international objectives. This may simply be driven by the need to share costs, but evidence suggests other factors, such as the potential for greater impact, may also be justifications.

As Kathinka Dittrich-Van Weringh from the European Cultural Foundation/LabforCulture wrote in the preface of the book: "By introducing this cultural component restricted though as it is into the EU's internal and external policy, the Member States acknowledged that the EU is more than an economic instrument, more than a security fortress, let alone a possible threat to the world; it is also a social and cultural project in progress. This so-called "soft power" claims to embody and convey to others certain norms and values, such as the acknowledgment of cultural diversity and respect for other cultures worldwide; a liberal-democratic social order, the unrestricted rule of law, the protection of human rights; in other words a multilateral rather than a unilateral approach to the world".

For details, please see http://www.boekman.nl/EN/publications_dimension.html