Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

The three strategic objectives in 2007- reflection by Hatto Fischer

At the European level, the European Agenda for Culture was adopted finally on 16 November 2007.

To remind, the Agenda defines three strategic objectives for EU cultural policy:

  1. promotion of cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue;
  2. promotion of culture as a catalyst for creativity in the framework of the Lisbon Strategy for
    growth, employment, innovation and competitiveness,
  3. and promotion of culture as a vital element in the Union’s international relations.

Whether or not these three priorities bring about such EU actions which do substantiate cultural policy in a visionary way as exemplified, for instance, by Michael D. Higgins, remains to be seen. Repeatedly it has been said culture was perceived more as a tool for member states to keep their own identities while the legal base for specific EU actions remained weak at best. The formula that the EU should fund only those actions which cannot be done by a single member state and alone, meant not perceiving the deeper issues in need to be resolved as far as European integration is concerned in both a cultural and economic sense.

By 2010 this assumption of integration meaning merely an economic formation, i.e. single market with a common currency, has been up-ended by a complete reversal. All of a sudden the state deficits of member states reveal economic integration has not been nearly as far reaching as everyone assumed. However, the full articulation of the basic value premises of a European economy would be unthinkable without taking the different cultures into consideration. It should be recalled furthermore that the draft for the EU Constitutional Treaty foresaw culture as having merely second competence compared to the environment which enjoyed the status of prime competence and thus would have been directly under the auspices of the EU institutions. Also the draft did not foresee religion as a common factor but rather as one which had contributed over time and history to conflict and division. Interestingly enough the German chancellor Merkel wished to have religion included in this set of common assumptions while at the same time she proposes a punitive system for economic governance with the clear intention to punish any state in case this state does not comply with the rules. It would not exclude expulsion from the community of member states making up the European Union. Yet such extreme concept of punishment reflects immaturity or as Barrosso would say naivity since new measure should be taken without thinking of re-integration or a more effective integration in case individual member states do not comply. But the criticism of the European Union in its use of soft power (persuasion by shaming indirectly) has been a lack of frankness and directness. Still, it was said at the most recent meeting at the joint meeting of the Cultural Platforms with the European Commission that children spend usually more time on designing rules for the game they want to play rather than playing the game. Consequently maturation in handling different 'risk cultures' should be included in what can be considered as to what is conducive, culturally speaking, for further economic development in the European Union.

Precisely here the three priorities of the European agenda of culture miss the key point, namely the relationship of culture to the economy. There has to be ascertained, culturally speaking, by what means people acquire over time their self-understanding and identities. Surely they will do so through work, but not only. They will have to incorporate into their identity building processes as well relationships to the political institutions which govern them and therefore are a part of their political culture must include policy tools in support of 'public truths and public spaces' as outlined by Bart Verschaffel.

People live their political culture by interacting and expressing ideas which are to them 'cultural truths' as they tend to extend it to include whatever they consider to be a 'good life' or else contributes towards it. They will judge accordingly what they consider to be worthy of their support.

Unfortunately the European debate has not gone beyond the usual rhetorical commitment to close the gap between citizens and European institutions. The EU Strategy paper for 2020 speaks even about these European institutions should become the ownership of the political elite (and not of the citizens of Europe) as if such a construct of institutions could then still claim to have a viable future.

The need to take culture into consideration when implementing certain ideas is really quite obvious but due to mere imposition from top-down overseen. But how markets may operate according to a set of habits may be fruitful in a socio-cultural context which prevails in the United Kingdom, but not, for example, in the Mediterranean countries. Louis Baeck, the economic historian who taught at the University of Leuven and advised many other countries, including those in Africa or Gorbatshov during the transition from the Soviet Union into Russia and its federation, has drawn attention to the need to observe differences in how Mediterranean countries perceive the relationship between culture and economy when compared with countries which follow the Atlantic tradition i.e. a strict seperation of economy and culture. The latter is the case in the United States were the only national institution designed to further the arts is the National Endowment for the Arts while all the rest is in private hands. In other words, even a negative relationship to culture or a concept of economy which excludes culture has an impact upon what politics considers then to be the prerequisites for everything else. If money is equated with market orientation, the illusionary power of that concept of reality makes all the difference in argumentation when it comes to setting priorities. It is, therefore, worthwhile to consider the position paper by Louis Baeck when discussing the difference between the Mediterranean and Atlantic tradition in economic throught.

European society cannot be judged merely in terms of efficiency as defined by the market. Practical judgement has to include as well considerations of social justice and social cohesion. This was the case within the European Union at least until 1999 but once military prerequisites were added such as a rapid intervention force after the Kosovo debacle, political thinking in Europe altered from attempting to achieve unity from within to creating a unity from the outside e.g. expansion and more explicitly by having at least one common foreign policy spokesperson. Yet this kind of Bismarck like strategy even to the point of needing war to unify member states by threats from the outside does not work. That was the case of Germany which is still today an artificial unity which requires all sorts of political tricks to uphold cohesion even when the discrepancies between Baveria and some other 'Länder' are huge.

If there is no positive atmosphere for working out solutions and making investments, then there shall be only social unrests. It can lead to political solutions adversive to an ideology supporting naively the free market without realising that this presupposes consumers who are in agreement with how they are governed because they feel free on how they spend their money. With that premise of how the system works goes the basic assumption of the rational individual who knows how to identify within the system means by which needs can be satisfied. There has to be a minimum of compatability between the individual and society to ensure that irrational tendencies are identified early enough and corrected in time before they can bring individuals and society into such conflicts that the very culture needed to further the ability to talk about problems and to recognize solutions, breaks down and leaves individuals without a minimum of positive self-understanding. Again the European Union was not careful enough to heed that word of caution of Adorno who stated in his aesthetical theory the only self-understanding to exist in cultural terms is that there is no such self-understanding and therefore also no automatic fix if this understanding breaks down and individuals feel no longer able to make any contributions.

As self-understanding has to be understood in cultural terms, including the ability to discuss and to contribute towards the formulation of the European agenda, it would require a conscious relationship between the overall European and the Cultural agenda in order to ascertain whether or not these two levels are compatible or not.

Thus the three priorities fall way short of what is becoming evident in 2010 due to the state deficit crisis and mounting problems in terms of employment and sustainable development. It would have been much better had the EU initiated together with the member states a conscious linkage between economy and culture to formulate an agenda which allows member states and European Union to envision such cultural governance that everyone would for a start have both a specific and a European identity while in combination of the two a non Identity would uphold the linkage so that the European space would remain open for explorations of new identities emerging out of a synthesis of Danish, Dutch, Spanish and Greek elements, in order to facilitate identification with European cultures perceived not merely as diverse, but as expressions of vital and deep dialogues going on all the time between people agreeing on something like a cultural contract for Europe.

1. Promotion of cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue

The first priority has been reinforced by the UNESCO resolution on cultural diversity. It is, however, not so clear what progress has been made so far with regards to 'intercultural dialogues'. The member states have not decided to create for this a working group within the open method of cooperation and therefore have no means to sound out each others' ideas about this first set priority.

What has been realised so far in practice within Europe? There are numerous interesting European projects which were presented at the Brussel's meeting in December 2008 e.g. theatre of the deaf who would introduce another epistemological dimension into intercultural communications. All these European projects can evoke interesting experiences but many of them are limited as to who participates in them actively and is interested in developing further ideas linked to the project once the EU funds are no longer sustaining the project. The sustainability of these projects to maintain intercultural dialogues over a longer period of time is, therefore, a problem of self-recognition missing if not rooted within civil society and supported by such NGOs which would do the work out a real need. Money plays always a crucial difference for once given by the EU it alters the status of all actors involved in the project but can become so self absorbed by the project that they fail to take the outcomes further, even to a political level to include mayors, regional and national elected politicians so as to address the contents to a wider audience. That means also right from the beginning there was not such a clear idea in the projects funded by the EU as to what they suppose to do in order to fulfill this criterion of furthering intercultural dialogue.

Then there are experiences made with regards to intercultural dialogue, but which are gained through very specific actions within an overall processes set into motion by political agreement to resolve special problems of cultural governance. For example, until the Good Friday Agreement was reached in Belfast, there was no chance till then for the peace process to take root in Northern Ireland. Governance in terms of the self-understanding of civil society was not possible. Two communities were literally at war due to having a very different self-understanding of violence in both a positive and negative sense. The fact that Ireland altogether experienced violence during the period of First World War as something positive, but very different - the loyalists as soldiers serving the King of England, the rebels as force of liberation from British rule - meant they could not come to any agreement about how to ascertain their own political freedom if not through violence. Both sides understood merely their respective readiness to defend whatever they had made self pride dependent upon in as being ready to be violent.

These examples should encourage good practices and extend over and beyond typical institutional forms e.g. inter religious dialogues as more subtle points need to be exemplified e.g. the Chios-Izmir peace mural painted in 2007 is based on an intercultural dialogue of children, youth and students coming from Izmir, Turkey and Chios, Greece with both sides discovering first of all 'painting' being their common language. Such actions should be capable of altering perception of both cultural and educational policies across Europe e.g. the Greek delegation visited the library of the Izmir University of Economy and discovered a complete section devoted to Greek literature, history and society.

Most important would be in addition to the points mentioned already to enrich the European debate about the role culture has to play. Since the report by Rod Fisher and others as to culture coming in from the margins, there have been important voices to formulate further going ideas at policy level such as Michael D. Higgins. He deals with some practical issues with regards to what else should be included on the European agenda for culture.

In a recent paper written by the philosopher Bart Verschaffel, another aspect has to be added to place these debates into their proper context. For Bart Verschaffel believes Europe is but a fiction although a necessary one and therefore estrangement from the original idea should be expected and worked on as part of the difficulties people have with such a fiction. In the wish to make things concrete, they may not appreciate fully the European debate at policy making level and therefore by lack of participation incur a 'poverty of experience' when it comes to dealing with both European institutions and the overall decision making process entailing so many different and complicated layers. A simplification thereof is to make the whole of Brussels stand for EU bureaucrats when in fact the various institutions - Council, Parliament, Commission - but also bodies like the Committee of the Regions - entail a complex consultative but also deliberative function to make the European Union work in a way everyone thinks and wishes it would.

See also the studies made by ERICarts about intercultural dialogue at


2. promotion of culture as a catalyst for creativity in the framework of the Lisbon Strategy for
growth, employment, innovation and competitiveness

The second priority has become linked to cultural industries. That was represented, for instance, by Bernd Fesel of Ruhr 2010 at the ECCM Symposium 'Productivity of Culture' held in Athens 2007. He outlined the strategies for the cultural industries in that particular area of Germany. It involves a massive re-education of mentalities through the arts to make this transition from work in the coal and steel sector to becoming active in the knowledge economy.

(see http://productivityofculture.org/symposium/a-z/bernd-fesel/#cv)

However, such use of culture risks to instrumentalise too much culture (and the arts) as factor of production. It was already outlined by BP manager Lenssen in the Fifth Seminar "Cultural Actions for Europe" (1994) when chairing workshop 5: 'economy and culture'. He spoke about a new practice at BP insofar artists were hired to show workers what it means to work under uncertain conditions and still remain highly creative. This policy of hiring artists was considered to be more useful by BP than sponsorship of artists.

Culture has become within the Information Society ever more crucial but mainly as 'tool' for communication and by extension as means to manage information. Since culture can used both as a filter and as a tool to handle complexity, some simplifications have been observed to counter the risk of being overflooded by information.

Culture can also be used to enhance organisational capacities of entire cities. For instance, the city of Cork gained in self confidence after having been European Capital of Culture in 2005. The people of Cork are according to Mary McCarthy ready to take on bigger projects.

One point about creativity must be clear. Ever since Arthur Koestler wrote about it in "Act of Creation" as being in reality the stepping stones to which one must jump to if to cross the water, creativity cannot be brought about as if a linear development, but entails leaps and set-backs, indeed disappointments while remaining unsure on how to explain the entire process.

At the ECCM Symposium 'Productivity of Culture', the philosopher Bart Verschaffel stated most emphatically that creativity cannot be planned.

(see http://poieinkaiprattein.org/culture/cities/what-is-cultural-planning-by-bart-verschaffel/)

Moreover cultures do not "flower" out of competition, but much more out of criticism and learning practices being open and accessible to many participants. Each person adds something to the overall innovative process if everyone takes an interest in improving the quality of the city, of the work and of life. This cannot be compared with pseudo-forms of competition e.g. Euro song contest. Rather creativity results out of collaborative learning processes. People learn and see how they can work, live and create together things. They become creative once open in their imagination and able to anticipate the coming of things as much as what shall be needed due to ongoing changes.

For this reason it is important that the European Agenda for Culture does include the crucial term of 'cultural adaptation'. Advancement thereof means capacity building to incorporate the needs of others before conceptualisation of own activities and strategies for producing and organising something. Innovation of products means to adapt them better to other cultural contexts. Yet this cannot happen within Europe if only products are exported, but in terms of cultural understanding of others nothing is taken into consideration with regards to these others.

Despite the UNESCO resolution, there is a clear absentee of appreciation of cultural differences within Europe with regards to work, time, space, organisational efficiency etc. Thus despite many common spaces and attempts to further mobility of the work force and of artists across borders, there is becoming more and more evident the failed cultural governance due to a transplantation of ideas and theories not being possible without taking other cultures into consideration. What organisational method works in Germany, France or England does not work necessarily in Greece. Adaptation of common practices must heed these cultural differences when it comes, for instance, to applying certain measures to reduce state deficits. While rational ideas linked to market only reform principles i.e. deregulation of the labor market, would perceive family based forms of solidarity with the individual as hindrance, it is a social and cultural asset in Greece that this solidarity is emotionally based within the family and therefore charged with other obligations than just making money for the company. Some very crude measures have been proposed and are being applied in Greece as a result of the need to reduce the state deficit, but the reasons for some of these measures doing more harm than good must be found in what is a wrong imposition of ideas and methods in a cultural context which works differently. Naturally this should not lead on the other hand to a kind of cultural relativism in order to safeguard local peculiarities which hide in turn irregularities and other kinds of injustices.

A general mistake is made when policy measures are implemented in the EU context without regard for the interplay between formal and informal aspects. Especially structural reforms are not able to bring about economic and social cohesion, if they cannot let things happen at informal level while neglecting at the same time many formal requirements. That is especially the case when it comes to qualifications and validations of professional capacities right across Europe. There is no point in furthering mobility, when the lawyer or doctor experiences a disqualification in the cultural, social and administrative context of the other country. As this is connected to the issue of accessibily not merely of one, but different cultures in other countries, then European cultural strategies have to enhance the opening up of cultures but not at the loss of depth and human experience. There is a danger that in order to reach cultural consensus in the negotiations between European Commission and Member States, the terms in use are too superficial as to capture the nuances needed to understand specific cultures and their differences.

That would lead to another component, namely to the impact of technology upon European cultures. Some work has been done on how to uphold cultural diversity within the Information Society (see study for STOA - European Parliament by Jesse Marsh and Co. at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/stoa/publications/studies/20001302_en.pdf)

That can lead to quite another array of policy options and definitions of issues in need to be dealt with at European level in collaboration with not only member states, but also the cultural sector throughout Europe. An attempt in that direction was made when the European Commission initiated a tender about cultural cooperation, but in the guidelines for this tender excluded the multiple forms of cooperation within civil society and the cultural sector independently from state financed and controlled cultural processes. It would be important to extend the intiatal study by enriching it with the component of civil society and especially culture orientated NGOs.

(see http://www.ifacca.org/publications/2003/06/01/report-on-the-state-of-cultural/)

or else at http://ec.europa.eu/culture/pdf/doc942_en.pdf)

3. Culture as a vital element in the Union's international relations

As to the third priority, the EU has not really shown so far how 'soft power' can work in a world beset by transgenient wars. translated into a cultural basis for developing and keeping international relations enhances recognition of both cultural diversities and compatabilities. Here the promotion of cultural tools to improve human communication could be considered as empowerment of people to manage and to transcend ongoing changes in a way which is consistent with their values, identities and needs. Efforts have been made by the various national cultural institutes (Goethe, Cervantes, British Council, Institute Francaise etc.) to represent European cultures together abroad but this challenge has not been resolved as of yet within Europe. Too often culture is used in a solely nationalistic sense to promote goods and services of that specific country abroad e.g. British Council's strategies are clearly defined by the overall UK priorities for foreign policy. There is no measure of success with regards to altering, for example, the approach to Afghanistan by adopting a non-military approach to promote civil society in terms of its own cultural diversity within Afghanistan. Above all, the failure to bring about substantial peace talks in the Middle East, underlines the fact that the security agenda has yet to be changed by such cultural inputs, that non violence as basic principle of cultural governance is adopted.

The failure of intercultural dialogue - letter by Frederique Chabaud (2002) (at that time Frederique Chabaud was the coordinator of EFAH, today Culture Action Europe) expresses in a most remarkable way in a few thoughts as to why intercultural dialogue stands to fail. This is especially the case if people see already what is happening on the ground and therefore withdraw the empathy from the level as to where dialogues usually take place at international level, and therefore within certain institutional framework conditions, including interpretations of international law and treaties. Since empathy is a key prerequisite for intercultural dialogue, once withdrawn, nothing worked out between politicians shall hold. For instance, Israel continues its settlement expansion and therefore undermines its own efforts to keep going with the peace talks in the Middle East.

In a similar way Tunesisan professor for Literature spoke at the ECCM Symposium 'Productivity of Culture' held in Athens 2007 about the prospects being quite dim as to a dialogue between cultures. (1) He saw the many tributes feeding the great stream of humanity slowly but surely drying up.This would mean local cultures would disappear while the bigger ones would come into such crisis that they would propagate only their own, that is blind view of the world.

@ Hatto Fischer, Athens 2007



1. Speech given by Prof. Kacem at the ECCM Symposium "Productivity of Culture" held in Athens 2007:



Note: Cultural Action Europe provides some main articles on the Cultural Agenda but by-passes in its recognition as to who contributed to the inclusion of culture into the sustainability discussion such EU Article 10 ERDF projects as CIED and the contribution made within that project by Maurice Carta from the University of Palermo. Also left out of this synopsis is the entire repercussion of the failure of the WSSD in Johannesburg 2002. Since then the sustainability discussion has taken on another dimension with Cultura 21.

The links provided by Cultural Action Europe can be found under:


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