25/05/2011 Can culture be a diplomatic tool?

European diplomacy could make itself more effective by drawing on our culture. This is the main point in a report adopted by the European Parliament.

Europe’s cultural richness could serve diplomatic purposes

In international relations, diplomacy consists of encouraging others to do and think what you want them to do and think. States, to achieve their goals, have a variety of tools at their disposal, some radical and others less so, such as armed force and economic power. The European Union’s most useful tool today is economic power. It turns out that threatening to close our markets to a third country or suspend their aid programmes can prove a strong incentive!

However, there is another way to exercise diplomatic power that is less confrontational and more subtle. The Parliament is promoting this way at the moment and it relates to the influence, particularly cultural, that a State can wield on other countries. Marietje Schaake, the Dutch MEP (ALDE), is the author of a report on the issue. She believes that Europe, with its impressively diverse cultural stock, should put this culture to good use in order to take its place among the chorus of nations.

Promoting and spreading European culture involves eliciting vague feelings of attachment and admiration that can sometimes prove more effective than fear – a sentiment that the European Union is not really in a position to incite anyway.

The advantages of such a step include strengthening mutual comprehension and promoting European values, not to mention the economic advantages.

Developing a cultural strategy integrated into diplomatic strategy

Cultural influence is a real phenomenon and Europe has global reach in matters of history, art and tourism for example. Rather than leaving this to chance however, the report proposes the creation of a strategy, coordinated by the EU and integrated into its general external strategy as led by the European External Action Service. Currently, this aspect is sorely lacking according to the report.

Rock and roll, culturally speaking, was a decisive element in loosening up communist societies and bringing them closer to a world of freedom.

A. Simonyi, former Hungarian Ambassador to the United States, quoted in the Marietje Schaake report.

By way of comparison, Marietje Schaake notes the Chinese initiative of opening ‘Confucius Centres’ around the world in order to gain cultural influence and, also, the United States which has long relied heavily on its entertainment industry, for example, to back up its international influence.

Avenues worth exploring

In practice, this could be achieved with the creation of a division that is exclusively devoted to culture within the hierarchy of the EEAS or by nominating a person in each EU embassy who is responsible for coordinating cultural relations with the third country. The report notes that inspiration should be taken from the excellent work of France (through its Francophone network) and the action of the British Council.

It also recommends the creation of a European “brand” which Marietje Schaake has already discussed, “Brand Europe is just to switch the thinking in terms of "Europe in the World" instead of differences between Member States. It’s important to think about our position in the worldwide economy because otherwise we miss opportunities and we risk becoming less relevant on the global stage even though we have by far the most attractive cultural landscape.”

Lastly the report gives pride of place to use of the Internet and particularly social media to support the creation and spread of culture.

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