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Who is Who in the Culturelink Team

Culturelink review, Special Issue 1994 - imprint - archive

The Cultural Dimension of the New West-East Relations in Europe

Marta Vrbetić is Research Fellow at the IRMO. She holds M.A. in European studies from the College of Europe, Bruges, Belgium, as well as M.A. in comparative literature from Indiana University, Bloomington, USA, and Diploma in American studies from Smith College, Northampton, USA. Her interests include West-East relations and transatlantic cooperation. She has written about cultural development and international cooperation, as well as about the relations of the European Union with Central and Eastern Europe.

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Following the democratic changes in Eastern Europe, the European Union (EU) established new diplomatic and trade relations with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The EU thus concluded trade and cooperation agreements with the emerging democracies of the East. In the case of more advanced countries, these agreements have been replaced by the Europe Agreements, establishing an association between the EU and its Member States on the one part and an Associated Country of Central and Eastern Europe on the other part. Such bilateral agreements have so far been concluded with Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Rumania, and Bulgaria.

The Europe Agreements are the most comprehensive agreements that the EU has concluded with non-member countries. These agreements testify to the commitment of the Associated Countries of Central and Eastern Europe to follow the path of political and economic reforms, while the EU supports the process of democratic and market-economy reforms through technical assistance and financial cooperation. Accordingly, the contents of these agreements provide for a political dialogue, underline the importance of the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and focus on trade and trade-related aspects as well as economic cooperation. The Europe Agreements also include provisions on cultural cooperation (Title VII), which usually embraces the following areas: translation of literary works, conservation of cultural heritage, promotion of cultural events with a European character, and training in cultural affairs.

Our question is why cultural cooperation has been included into the agreements which focus on the establishment of a free-trade area and economic cooperation. But before we proceed with the examination of the role of cultural cooperation in the new West-East relations in post-Cold-War Europe, we could perhaps examine the EU's cultural cooperation with other non-member countries. By comparing the aims of the North-South and West-East cultural cooperation, we can see that cultural cooperation promotes the overall objectives of the EU's external policy towards non-member countries.

The Fourth ACP-EEC Convention, which applies to cooperation between the EU and the developing countries of Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific region, includes a section on cultural and social cooperation (Title XI). The emphasis in this cooperation is on self-reliant development focused on the human being and rooted in the local cultures. According to Article 143, the appraisal of development projects and programs should take into account, inter alia, the local cultural heritage.

On the other hand, the safeguarding of cultural heritage and preservation of regional identities in Greater Europe always go hand in hand with the emphasis on the promotion of the common underlying 'European-ness.' Such a difference in the respective priorities of the EU's external cultural cooperation with respect to cultural heritage is evidently due to the variation in the overall policy objectives of the EU's relations with non-member countries. While one of the aims of the EU-ACP cooperation is the incorporation of the local cultural beliefs into development projects in order to contribute to self-reliant development in the developing countries, the objective of the cultural actions within the Union is to enhance the integration process, while the stated objective of the EU's cooperation with the Associated Countries of Central and Eastern Europe is the development of closer ties between the two parts of Europe. What is more, with the newly proposed pre-accession strategy for the Associated Countries, the EU's stated objective is the progressive integration of the Associated Countries of Central and Eastern Europe into the Union. Consequently, it is no wonder that there emerge some similarities between the EU's internal cultural policy and its external cultural cooperation with the Associated Countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

The transformation of the European Community into the European Union has been marked by the introduction of new competences at the European level, including those in the area of culture, based on Article 128 of the Treaty on the European Union (TEU). Evidently, the efforts of the EU Member States to create 'an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe' (Art. A TEU) should include the European common cultural policy, because culture is perceived here as a means of strengthening the ties among the citizens of the Union. Article 128 says that the Union should contribute to the blossoming of the cultures of its Member States, 'while respecting their national and regional diversity and at the same time bringing the common cultural heritage to the fore.' The newly proposed key areas for the cultural action include the following: promotion of cultural heritage, support for artistic activities and cultural events with a European character (Kaleidoscope 2000), and promotion of books and reading, notably through translation (Ariane).

Cultural heritage, cultural events of European significance, and translation of literary works are the three key areas for the EU's internal cultural actions, as well as the main areas of the EU's external cultural cooperation with the Associated Countries of Central and Eastern Europe, as confirmed by Title VII of the Hungarian Europe Agreement. Moreover, both Kaleidoscope 2000 and Ariane, the new EU's cultural programs with the legal basis in Article 128 of the TEU, will be open to non-member countries. Preference will be given to the signatories of agreements with the EU incorporating cultural clauses, namely the countries of Central and Eastern Europe as well as of Latin America, while special emphasis will be on cultural cooperation with the Associated Countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

Thus, an analogy has been established between the cultural actions inside the EU and its cultural cooperation with the Associated Countries of Central and Eastern Europe, both in the sphere of actions and in the objective of strengthening the links among different peoples. For the sake of clarity, it should be reiterated that the Europe Agreements do not mean the same level of integration as the process taking place among the EU Member States, but they certainly represent a significant rapprochement between the two parts of Europe and the level of assistance and commitment without a parallel in the EU's external relations with other parts of the world.

A new impetus to the West-East relations in Europe has been provided by the proposed pre-accession strategy, aimed to prepare the Associated Countries of Central and Eastern Europe for accession, or full membership in the EU. The strategy proposed by the Commission relates mostly to the structured multilateral dialogue, legal approximation, enhanced trade opportunities, and economic cooperation. It does not forget, however, the role which culture should play in forming closer ties between the eastern and western parts of Europe. The Commission proposes that cultural cooperation between the EU and the Associated Countries be encouraged as the manifestation of their common cultural heritage. This particular emphasis is reminiscent of Article 128 of the TEU outlining the EU's internal cultural policy, which advocates the need to highlight the common cultural heritage of the Europeans. In addition, the Commission proposes the extension of the EU's cultural programs to the Associated Countries, in particular Kaleidoscope 2000 and Ariane. Furthermore, under the framework of the structured dialogue, the Associated Countries will join in the work of the EU Culture Council, to be held at the ministerial level in March 1995. Culture has thus become an integral part of the pre-accession strategy, aimed to progressively integrate the Associated Countries of Central and Eastern Europe into the European Union.

The significant role of culture in the EU's new relations with the Associated Countries could be highlighted further by comparing the Commission's proposal for the pre-accession strategy with its new proposal on the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. The proposed Partnership would lead to a substantial increase in financial aid to the Mediterranean area of North Africa and the Middle East. By its contents and suggested budget, the proposal reveals the desire to upgrade the EU Mediterranean policy to the level of the EU policy towards Central and Eastern Europe. There exists a significant difference, however. Unlike the Commission's proposal on the pre-accession strategy for the Associated Countries of Central and Eastern Europe, the proposed Euro-Mediterranean Partnership does not envisage the eventual accession of the Mediterranean states of North Africa and the Middle East to the EU. Therefore, it is not surprising that in the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership cultural cooperation does not play the role which it has been assigned in the EU's relations with the Associated Countries of Central and Eastern Europe. However, cultural dimension is not absent from the EU's relations with the Mediterranean countries. In its communication concerning the EU's relations with the Middle East, the Commission speaks in favor of promoting the intercultural understanding between the two shores of the Mediterranean, but it also emphasizes the role of culture in the Middle East peace process, such as the Israeli-Palestinian exchanges.

In conclusion, we can say that the EU's cultural cooperation with non-member countries promotes the EU's larger, external policy objectives. In the case of the Associated Countries of Central and Eastern Europe, culture has become a means of advancing the progressive integration of selected countries of the former Eastern Bloc into the European Union. As reported in Together in Europe, the Luxembourg meeting of October 1994, which brought together the EU Council of Foreign Ministers and their counterparts from the Associated Countries of Central and Eastern Europe, confirmed that culture had been the principal bridge among the divided European nations during the Cold War and was an essential element of the pre-accession strategy. Therefore, the sharing of common cultural values is not only the present basis of the larger European integration process but also a lasting underlying link which managed to survive the communist era of division and which has now made it possible for Europe's eastern part to rejoin its western counterpart.

References

  1. 'Accession strategy for Associated Countries,' Together in Europe, 1 November 1994.
  2. Decision of the Council and the Commission of 25 February 1991 on the conclusion of the Fourth ACP-EEC Convention, OJ L 229, 17 August 1991.
  3. 'EU/Culture Council,' Europe Daily Bulletin, Agence Europe, 10 November 1994.
  4. Europe Agreement establishing an association between the European Communities and their Member States, of the one part, and the Republic of Hungary, of the other part, OJ L 347, 31 December 1993.
  5. Europe Agreements and beyond: A strategy to prepare the countries of Central and Eastern Europe for accession, COM(94) 361 final, 27 July 1994.
  6. European Community action in support of culture, COM(94) 356 final, 27 July 1994.
  7. Future relations and cooperation between the Community and the Middle East, COM(93) 357 final, 8 September 1993.
  8. New prospects for Community cultural action, COM(92) 149 final, 29 April 1992.
  9. Proposal for a European Parliament and Council Decision establishing a programme to support artistic and cultural activities having a European dimension (Kaleidoscope 2000), OJ C 324, 22 November 1994.
  10. Proposal for a European Parliament and Council Decision establishing a support programme in the field of books and reading (Ariane), OJ C 324, 22 November 1994.
  11. Strengthening the Mediterranean Policy of the European Union: Establishing a Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, COM(94) 427 final, 19 October 1994.
  12. Treaty on European Union, OOPEC, Luxembourg, 1992.