Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

The Cultural Diversity in Europe: A survey of possible ways of measurement by Ruben Lombaert

I. Introduction

Imagine. Somewhere in Flanders, or Catalonia, or Denmark, Greece,.... in three generations time. Mister or Misses X gets up in the morning and turns on the radio. He or she listens to the news flash, read in fluent Euro-English. Afterwards, they leave for work. On their way over there, they speak, and they hear in the street Euro-English. In the post-office, where he stops to buy some stamps, he does so in Euro-English. In the evening, they meet some friends somewhere in town, and they talk, you undoubtedly guessed, Euro-English. In short, The X's behave like any other normal citizen in Flanders, Greece, Denmark or wherever in Europe. However, one thing makes Mr.X somewhat peculiar: he collects old books, written in Dutch. Image, books in a dead language. But if others collect fossils, or stamps, why can't he collect old books?
(based upon an example in a lecture written by Mrs. Els Riebels, University of Gent)

II. Culture and Identity in the new Union

This maybe cryptic description would imply that each individual is able to preserve his or her own (cultural) identity, his own heritage, his own cultural linkages. But it implies also something else: the fact that they can be recognized, despite their own cultural specificities, also indicates that there are common elements. In fact, it would mean the materialization of what is written down in Article 128 of the Maastricht treaty:

"La Communautι contribue ΰ l'ιpanouissement des cultures des Etats membres dans le respect de leur diversitι nationale et rιgionale, tout en mettant en ιvidence l'hιritage culturel commun."

It may be difficult to image at first sight how ambitious the realization of this short description is: it implies an active language policy, a policy aiming at the preservation of the existing architectural heritage, the diffusion of the existing knowledge about the different cultures existing in the EU, the stimulation of research in cultural matters, the encouragement of transboundary cultural events,...

Each of the above quoted items can be split up into numerous parts.

I'm sure you can complement this list with several other aspects you consider to be important.

But preserving and stimulating differences is only one side of the story. The other side is that living in a society also implies "socialization". The European Union's present grand project, after the economic integration of Europe, will be the construction of a political union. Closely linked to this is the build-up of a European society, since political institutions regulate and govern a society.

When I say "they build-up a society", this must not be seen as a construction of a n e w society, starting from the ground. In fact, this means the creation of a complex system of interactions in which the institutions guide the society, and societal evolutions force the institutions to respond.

Serious reflection is necessary to figure out what the exact aim of this new Europe should be. How far should the political integration go? What route should be taken; intergovernmental or supranational?

In my view, the European Union's future role is not the replacement of the existing national states, but to be a supplement to them. But also to this role of the Union one of the basic rules of political science applies: the political unit must be c r e d i b l e to its people, it must create adherence. In other words, people must i d e n t i f y themselves with the power centre.

One of the problems of Europe today is that Europe has a bad image. Or even worse, no image at all. The citizens have no direct associations when the word "European Union" is mentioned, except maybe an image of complexity and an impossibility to understand it.

This image has been partly created by the member-states themselves, who too often use "the Brussels bureaucracy" as the excuse for their own failures.

The Union has a big task ahead in making its citizens feel "at home". This can only be done by creating circumstances in which a harmonious development of the different cultures can take place. To put the focus entirely on creating the ideal circumstances for economic growth will create disturbances in the long run, and will make the creation of European political union virtually impossible, since it will not be supported by a European society, in which diversity can exist. Misunderstanding can create regression in the attitude towards the union, and a loss of confidence will reflect itself in the future development of the union.

III. The basic features of the European identity-to-be

Research such as the EVSG (1) indicates that some broad values are shared throughout Europe, such as the importance for happiness, which is associated with the closeness of the family. However, transboundary value comparisons have to be done with extreme care, since the cultural differences b e t w e e n (and even i n) the member states indicate that, for instance, "family" is totally differently understood in the Scandinavian countries, compared to Spain or Greece. Sociological data and conclusions drawn from such research have to be analysed with great care.

In order to achieve this new European identity, the ideal would therefore be, to try to construct a socialization system in which attention is given to the common history of the European states and continent, to the values common to the Europeans, values that have arisen out of pan-European civilisations and value-systems (i.e. Christianity, the Greco-Latin political system, the Renaissance,...)

Besides that, attention must be given to the local specificities and characteristics, so that the citizens in their education can link what they see and experience every day to what they hear and see in the media and during their travels. Understanding is one of the best guarantees for peace and development.

In this sense, the role of basic socializing units as the educational systems and the family cannot be underestimated. But education and socialization are not the only factors shaping European identity: it is also partially constructed through the image the people have of the past. And history depends primarily on cultural orientation, moulded by memory, trust and actions undertaken to secure the continuity of knowing one's identity. In this sense, access to information is crucial. (To return briefly to the practical side of the whole discussion, we can situate some of the educational programs of the Community in this framework, i.e.ERASMUS)

The relationship between cultures and identities is very closely intertwined with its position in time. An identity is rooted in the past, experienced in the present and adjusted for the future. Thus, only a flexible approach to identity formation will allow for the inclusion of continuous changes in the micro, meso and macrolevel, both in society and in the world-wide environment. In sum, the European identity consists of many dimensions, comprising a set of widely accepted values, and the respect for the specific values and regionally and/or culturally specific characteristics of societies. Only such a conceived multi-dimensional identity will allow creativity to arise out of diversity.

IV Prospects for research. Possible ways of measurement

When we are talking about research in cultural matters, it seems important to me to follow a strict scientific line of thinking. Because research in cultural matters is quite a sensitive matter, of which the results can easily be manipulated for political purposes, the basic question we have to ask is "what are we going to investigate, what are the final aims?"

-) Aims

The aim of any research of the cultural situation in and of the European Union must be to obtain knowledge and insights about the way how different cultures can be integrated in a larger political and economic framework, without endangering their identity.

The practical result of such research must be to indicate ways to the policy-makers how the institutional construction of the Union can be adjusted to the changing reality in Europe. This reality is a Europe in which some states go through a process of regionalisation, and of which we can say in general that a growing stress is put on the cultural identity of the different population groups.

-) Methodology

Depending on the actual concrete aims defined, it seems difficult to imagine concrete quantitative categories of data, which can be uses as a basis to obtain the knowledge aimed at. This could be done via a questionnaire with clearly defined, unequivocal questions based on an appropriate, and for the purpose a matching standardised answering structure. These data can afterwards be coded for statistical use.

-) Criteria

It is essential to distinguish some fields that can give indications for the respect for the multi-culturality in the European Union. To be able to do this, it is first of all important to possess a widely accepted definition of what societal factors influence and are influenced by culture. I hereby indicate some elements that seem important to me, but this list is not exhaustive.

1. Language is widely recognized as an important - but not unique - characterising element of a culture. Language is the carrier of the culture. The use of the own language is also one of the basic democratic rights claimed by the EP. In a recent study (2), it was indicated that the fact of being creative is linked to the use of the own language.

2. In the view of some authors (3) culture is one of the factors that can improve the competitiveness of the economy. In short, their argument suggests that if people recognise themselves in structures that are a part of their local culture, they will be more enthusiastic and work harder. According to Dr. Lenssen, art can also be a source of inspiration for the development of new management strategies. The local culture also has an influence on the behaviour of the economic actors. (4)

3. Media. The question of the media is not only one of economic ownership, the influence of the ownership on the ideological pluralism of the media landscape, but it comprises also the language. Stronger financial concerns out of numerically large language zones may dominate smaller media from small language zones. Even when these big groups use the local language, this cannot completely be seen as the respect for this culture. An example of this are dubbed Television-advertisements.

4. Institutional set-up of the European Union.

Respect for the multi-culturality inside the institutional set-up is a very sensitive subject. The recent changes in article 146 have given the federalised states a voice in the decision making structures, but as indicated, not all states know a regionalist structure (be it or not a regionalization with a cultural base) and there will thus remain some (cultural) regions which have to look for other ways to influencing the decision making process. The creation of the Committee of the Regions is one step in this direction, but it has some in-built disadvantages (such as its heterogeneous composition), and its competencies are rather limited.
Also important in this framework is the use on all levels of all the official languages.

5. Actions of the Union in the field of Culture. Thanks to the treaty of Maastricht, the Union has gained some new competencies in the field of cultural promotion. Despite the fact that these possibilities for action are limited, they can become in the long run a way to integrate the European societies, without "harmonising" or "equalising" them. Moreover, all actions have to be decided following the co-decision procedure (art. 189 b), and also the COR has to be consulted. It may be supposed that the involvement of these two institutions will focus attention on the cultural specificities of the regions.

I would also like to say something about actions in the field of culture and subsidiary. What I consider to be important here is two-fold: first of all, it could be useful to link the cultural actions to the actions carried out in the framework of the ERDF. To preserve and encourage the development of cultural diversity in Europe, some cultures need more (financial) support than others.

Secondly, also in the actual implementation of the programs local specificities have to be considered. One should beware of the fact that cultural programs do not answer all (administrative) necessities to be implemented effectively, but this "administrative polishment" might hinder the actual functioning in the field.

These elements have to be studied in the framework of some other working groups, treating the cultural evaluation of projects.


  1. European Value Studies Group. See for this the contribution of Prof. Kerhofs in "Culture: Building Stone for Europe 2002. Reflections and perspectives", PIE, Brussels 1994.
  2. Nana K. Hvelplund, "The use of languages in the European Co-operation and the equal treatment of all languages", paper presented at the 3rd conference "Europe of the Cultures", Garnel Dok, Copenhagen, 19 June 1993.
  3. See for this the writings of G. Hofstede. More bibliographical information on this topic can be found in the bibliography of the part "Economics and Culture", in "Culture, Building Stone for Europe 2002. Reflections and Perspectives."
  4. See Prof. Garelli, IMD Business School, Geneva.

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