New EU policy for culture and development

February 2008 -

"With culture, it always seems to me that people think you are giving financial support to Masai folk dancing. Culture still bears the stigma of luxury and elitism in the field of European development cooperation. The definition of culture varies so significantly between the various European member states. The concept of culture applied by the French, for example, is much broader than that used by the northern European countries, making it difficult to conceptualise it in Europe."

Koos Richelle is the Director General of Europe Aid, the European Union's operations organisation for development cooperation. With the policy memorandum A European agenda for culture in a globalising world, published in May 2007, the European Union is intensifying its cultural policy and is now officially active in culture and development. According to Richelle, this is still relatively unexplored territory for the EU that is rapidly gaining importance. "Naturally, development cooperation is always about fighting poverty: education, healthcare, energy, water and things like that. At the same time, however, culture is what can unify people in conflict areas."

The updated EU policy is apparently inspired by the Unesco convention for the protection of cultural diversity. "It is a slow process, but twenty-three of the EU countries have now ratified the convention. The Netherlands is one of the four countries that have not yet done so. The French were the first, but they already had an Institut du Monde Arabe long before there were problems with the Islam. I truly believe that this Unesco convention is a source of inspiration."

"Maybe museums will finally start returning all of the artistic treasures taken over the course of centuries from former colonies to the countries they came from. That could strengthen the cultural identity of the originating countries. I fear, however, that the effectuation of this convention will be a long time coming once the text is ratified. In developing countries, a lot of culture can be described as artistic crafts. But because those are usually not subject to intellectual property rights, their market value is extremely limited."

The policy memorandum A European agenda for culture in a globalising world provides for matters including intensifying cooperation with the 78 African countries united in the ACP, meaning Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. A total of thirty million euros has been earmarked for this purpose through the year 2013. But five million euros a year seems a mere drop in the bucket for 78 countries. Europe Aid devotes 7.5 billion euros each year to development cooperation. Consensus on the role of culture in development cooperation was established in 2005. The memorandum defines a variety of policy premises such as promoting cultural diversity, but also states that culture is a catalyst for increasing employment opportunities. One of the results is the six million euro support programme for the creative industry in the ACP countries, for example. Another thematic programme, Investing in People, involves fifty million euros. In the past ten years, a total 44 million euros was contributed to Euromed Heritage, with another 17 million to follow in the next ten. European policy is highly complicated and includes many activities that have a sizeable cultural component but that are not earmarked as culture. Because culture and development is a relatively new field for the EU, Europe Aid is also training European Union staff members.