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Cultural Relations in the EU and External Action


Dimitrij Rupel, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Slovenia, President of the Council of the EU

It is my great pleasure to welcome you to the cinference: New Models, New Paradigms – Culture in the EU External Relations. Allow me to extend a particularly warm welcome to our partners and to thank them for their cooperation and support in the preparation of the conference: the European Commission, the European Cultural Foundation, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs of the Republic of Austria, which in this period also held the Presidency of the European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC). I also welcome representatives of civil society, especially those arriving from non-EU countries, from the Western Balkans and our southern and eastern neighbourhood, the area of focus of today’s conference.

  1. Cultural relations and cultural life in the EU are based on respect for diversity, but also – or primarily – on common foundations, similarities, proximity, and inclusion. In our schools, we teach about and appreciate Antiquity and classical culture, Humanism, Renaissance and Enlightenment, we appreciate –the democratic and free European spirit that overcame the hostilities of two world wars and the Cold War, authoritarian regimes, etc. Building on our common foundations,we foster multiculturalism, tolerance, minority protection, freedom of expression, and dialogue.
  1. The EU promotes co-operation among institutions and artists from different countries and different cultural backgrounds. It encourages creativity and artistic exploration, and expects intelligent analysis and new ideas from cultural institutions and artists alike.
  1. Cultural policies in the EU should be as independent as possible; however, this is difficult to achieve. State governments and political parties often interfere in culture with conditions which freedom-loving individuals find hard to accept. Our advice is, therefore, to keep the state and the politics as far as possible from cultural contents and let them primarily encourage cultural processes. The autonomy of artistic work and freedom of expression should also be included in the everyday aspirations of the foreign policy of the EU.
  1. The issue of cultural institutions and cultural activities as guardians of national identity is especially demanding. Therefore I commend the initiative for the creation of EUNIC, which aims to promote not only national values, but also common European values and cultural achievements.
  1. New Member States and candidate countries find themselves in a particularly interesting situation, as there exist certain ambiguities or even tensions between European and national identities. Culture provides both: respect for tradition as well as openness to cooperation, dialogue, and partnerships.
  1. Democratic reforms contribute to a relaxed atmosphere, freedom and democracy also in the field of culture. Such a perception of cultural life is created and spread by official institutions and formal policies. However, many European countries are still in a period of transition, and authoritarian, hierarchic, dogmatic ideas, contrary to those mentioned previously, remain rooted in their background. At the root of the problem is something I shall call the deep state What is the deep state? Behind the formal (democratic) structure there is a system of institutions, groups and pressures which calls for confrontation with the modern world and international solidarity, pushes archaic patterns, and especially undermines the European spirit.
  1. In its foreign policy, the EU is trying to convey its own experience, its disappointments, challenges, and achievements. In this respect, it promotes intercultural dialogue, wherever it is necessary and possible: in the Western Balkans, the Middle East, the Caucasus, etc. And as European nations managed to find reconciliation, so will the non-European nations on the one hand, and European and non-European on the other.
  1. During its EU Presidency, Slovenia has set intercultural dialogue among its priorities. Among our initiatives let me mention the establishment of the Euro-Mediterranean University in Piran.
  1. The most difficult challenges facing European foreign policy include bringing together the Christian and Islamic, the Islamic and Jewish, and the Catholic and Orthodox worlds. Much work lies ahead of us in the Western Balkans (creating dialogue between Serbs and Albanians) and in the Middle East. Cultural promotion and cultural exchange can encourage this process immensely, and make an important contribution to intercultural dialogue.
  1. After all, notwithstanding all the problems and dilemmas, the big picture of European and related, or neighbouring, cultures will have to be emphatically dealt with. It is becoming increasingly evident that similarities between American, European and Russian culture are much bigger than differences between them. One of the most demanding tasks for future European foreign policy, linked also, or particularly, to the field of culture, is the consolidation of relations with the US and the Russian Federation. An example Slovenia has pushed for is The Forum of Slavic Cultures. We should be aware that forces of the deep state are pressing in the background, and that they are pressing in different directions. We are dealing with strong opponents of the European idea and of modern culture.
  1. We must not forget the role and significance of the European Parliament in the formulation of common European policies. I am very pleased that the President of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pöttering, who has for a number of years been personally working to strengthen links and synergies between civil initiatives and the political sphere, and who is one of the founding members of the A Soul for Europe (ASfE) initiative, will take the floor at this conference.
I hope and trust that the discussions in these two days will bring more clarity to the field we have opened. The recommendations formulated and adopted by conference participants will be communicated to EU Member States and institutions. I wish you all a pleasant stay in Ljubljana, good work, and lots of success.

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Date: 13.05.2008