Cultural Diplomacy in Europe: Words Matter

15 July 2019

Our new article (Chapter 3 in the book) looks at the extent to which culture really is ‘part and parcel’ of the EU’s foreign policy, as claimed by High Representative Mogherini. Is culture really strategically embedded into the EU’s external relations? What are the prospects for the strategic approach to international cultural relations? Will cultural relations really become a ‘third pillar’ of the EU’s Global Strategy, and if so, what will that mean at a time of rising nationalism and populism in Europe. As the article says, the jury is still out on all of these questions, but we believe there are some grounds for optimism. Time will tell…

I am delighted that the article I co-wrote with Erik Vlaeminck: A Vision of Europe Through Culture: A Critical Assessment of Cultural Policy in the EU’s External Relations has just been published in the volume: Cultural Diplomacy in Europe: Between the Domestic and International, edited by Caterina Carta and Richard Higgott.

The volume is a product of the H2020 EL-CSID project. As the editors say, “The literature on European international cultural relations, especially literature that attempts to combine leading edge conceptual analysis with contemporary empirical narrative, is not large. Indeed, we believe this volume to be one of, if not the first of its kind”.

We hope that our article will be of interest to policy-makers throughout the EU and its institutions. The questions it raises are largely about how words match up to deeds, (or don’t), and how words can be used to create the conditions for a genuine international collaboration.

Definitions are important here – there is an ongoing confusion of terms. What do we talk about when we talk about culture? Or when we talk about public as distinct from cultural diplomacy? How do these terms differ from cultural relations? Do these rather academic-sounding distinction matter?

We think that they do, especially when concepts need to be turned into policies.

There is still a lot of work to be done in this area, but we also need to short-circuit the discussion – the existential, real-world, challenges facing the EU in its external and domestic relations, can make debates about semantics seem like luxury problems we can no longer afford. However, given that the EU and its Member States, regions and neighbours, its institutions, and civil society need to make some real choices, and that the words used will define these choices, there is a case to be made for an urgent effort to find a language that all can use, in the same way.

Stuart MacDonald

International Cultural Relations