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Cultural Priorities (2000) by Hatto Fischer

European Parliament: Committee on Culture, Education, Media, Sports and Youth

Subject: Cultural Priorities 31.3.2000

Ramifications: Parliamentary Democracy: Inner – Outer Transparency

It was often mentioned in various contributions by MEPs of the Cultural Committee that there would be a need for a European Agenda on Culture. This was only to become a reality in 2007, but then things take time and have their own way of coming through.

In 2000, when working as advisor to the Committee on Culture, Education, Media, Sports and Youth for the European Greens in the European Parliament, there was during a session at the end of March suddenly a void. Some things could not be taken up but still the MEPs had gathered. The proposal was made and accepted to use that 'free time' to discuss what should be taken into consideration when wishing to refer to cultural priorities as far as the European Union is concerned?

One most crucial remark was made by Spanish MEP Apracio when he formulated the problem as one of a paradox, for people have on the one hand high expectation in culture, in particular to safeguard and to strengthen their identities, while on the other hand culture has one of the weakest legal basis within the European Union. This was said before the European Convention decided to relegate culture to second competence level while environment received prime competence within the European Union when drafting proposals for the EU Constitutional Treaty, but which was rejected by France and Holland in 2005. And before the European Commission did take the initiative to put in place a European agenda on culture.

When reporting about this remarkable discussion in the Cultural Committee, then I felt it was important not only to inform MEPs but people interested in culture but no way near the political deliberation process. Thus a prime question was how to inform people outside the political process about what is going on inside of Parliament? It is not merely a matter of transparency, but letting people follow the thought process and what positions are touched upon by various MEPs.

Minutes written out of memory in an attempt to reconstruct the discussion should allow the thinking process to be followed. What makes people feel unable to understand things, are confrontations with finished products as if they cannot respond or add any more another thought. Politics is, however, the art of shaping agendas out of discussions rather than using the agenda to suppress other thoughts, issues and matters in need of being dealt with at the highest possible level of competence and responsibility.

HF 5.6.2010


Priorities of the Committee on Culture, Media, Education, Youth and Sports

Written by: Dr. Hatto Fischer, (first draft: 31.3.2000)

Prelimary explanation:

In the afternoon of the 28.3.2000, there took place in the Cultural Committee a special discussion. For the only point on the agenda was ‘Priorities’. This point had been announced several times and then always cancelled. In the informal meeting of the staff co-ordinators, the advisor of the GREEN / EFA group insisted rather than canceling the afternoon session, to use this extra time for a discussion about priorities as proposed repeatedly by the President of the Committee, MEP Gargani. That was accepted and decided upon at the later meeting of the co-ordinators.


Minutes of the Committee on Culture, Media, Education, Youth and Sport:


President Gargani opened the discussion with a paper (not handed out) to provoke the discussion. At the end of the meeting, he promised to make the text available to the members in time for them to respond.


In the form of a table the main points and his comments can be presented without necessarily claiming completeness:



The Cultural Committee has one important task, namely that Europe should not only come together on the basis of economics and politics, but through culture.

One main priority would be, therefore, to facilitate the development of a ‘cultural identity’ for Europe.

The problem of the Committee within the Parliament is not only to be linked to defining the role, but also to carry the weight as decision-making body.

The legislative competences of the Committee have to be upgraded.

Financial accountability of the budget lines for which the Committee is responsible is one of the key tasks of Parliament.

MEP Perry is already setting examples of how to deal with budgetary matters. In future, Commission officials should be invited on a more regular basis in order to monitor progress and process of implementation of programs. Hence the key priority is to strengthen the effective control by Parliament of the Executive.

The relation with the Commission is an important matter, but also how decisions are made (e.g. co-decision)

After the experiences made by MEPs Moura, Pack, Gargani etc. in the consultation process, a special priority will have to be the ‘review clause’.

The relation with other Committees of the Parliament have to reviewed, e.g. with the Committee on Industry and Trade.

Priority should be given, therefore, to seeking more co-operations with the secretary in order to solve the problem of communication linked to exchange of documents and setting of agendas when studies and reports are due for amendments. Leaving this matter unresolved creates many political problems.

The Committee work does depend upon the timetable and legislative plan of the Commission.

Here a priority is to articulate ‘opinions’ about the time framework in which the necessary work can be done. Clearly the Committee must follow also its own priorities as they relate to the cultural and educational dimensions of the Information Society. It follows fore mostly out of the competences given to the Committee by the Maastricht Treaty. However, it is true that many other Committees have yet to recognize that the Committee on Culture, Education, Media, Youth and Sports has these competencies.

There is a linkage between the kinds of cultural problems identified and the cultural strategies designed to resolve them.

Efforts in this direction should be the wellspring of cohesion, the wellspring of culture in the Information Society.

Insofar the Committee is a part of the European Parliament, everything possible should be done to upgrade and qualify the work done in the parliament.

This can be done by strengthening co-operation procedures with the Industrial Committee on such important matters as Media and other aspects linked to both industry and culture of the Information Society. The work of the Committee should feed into that overall working process of the parliament.

Finally, the strengthening of the role of the European Union is a matter of concern to all.

Priority has to be given to examining and fulfilling the duties politicians have in view of the European Citizens.


Following Gargani the MEPs present spoke in turn. Here are some of the main points without any claim whatsoever of completeness:


MEP Anderson (LIB)

In reference to the Information Society underlined the concern of their group:

a)       the Culture 2000 program should be geared especially towards young people

b)       given the importance of information and communication, such policy should be designed as to bring things closer to the citizens. There is a need to bridge the gap.


MEP Perry (PPE)

He has several points, some of which have been touched upon already by Mr. Gargani:

a)       Finance: there is a need to keep a close and careful eye on it

b)       Information Policy

c)       Media: there is a need to be careful that there is no monopoly control over the media

d)       Self-regulation: the differences of standards at national and European level have to be brought together

e)       Education

f)        Single market: to have flexible labor movement, there is a need for recognition of qualification


Apracio (PSE)

The Committee faces really a dilemma between two different sets of problems:


On the one hand, the Committee has to deal with policy matters without strong

Legal basis (compared to what other Committees deal with)


While on the other, the Committee deals with matters that have the highest

Profile of concern to citizens.

These two conflicting policy areas need attention, i.e. legislative initiatives. The Cultural Committee should take on some critical weight within the parliamentary process. Therefore, he recommends:

  1. legislative work – Reding, Prodi are doing a lot, but the committee has to do itself a lot, there are the critical decision by Carlos Westendorp Y Cabeza, chairman of the Committee of Industry, in claiming all reports for the “audio-visual industry”, just because it contains the name ‘industry’ without realizing that this lies within the domain of the Cultural Committee being also responsible for the media. He added, “We have to fight that”.
  2. Then he wishes to say something that might go against what many may express here differently, namely that “we need more Europe, not less”. “So let us ask but who is asking for more Europe?” This is contrary to current efforts to re-nationalize European programs. Especially in this domain the committee has to work in order to create a legal basis for EU policy in culture and education.
  3. Culture does also contribute towards the creation of jobs; hence the Committee should undertake such efforts that would allow for a European dimension in all of this.
  4. In order to limit Nationalism, the European Union and the member states have to seek a new policy orientation.



Barbara O’Toole (PSE)

She has but a few points:

  1. Rather than just speaking about the relationship between the Cultural and Industry Committee, there has to be included the parliament as a whole for we have really a trilogy, and this leads on to the question why we are so late in getting studies and reports to make amendments on. Surely this has also something to do with the administrative problem on how especially DG 1 and the Commission as a whole structure the timetable.
  2. Within Parliament there is also a Communication Policy mainly in the hands of DG and that needs improvement. Communication needs to be improved altogether – that is, how feed in, and how the Committee can present its work to the public. There is an urgent need to improve the Committee work.
  3. She also questions this procedure of giving first a report without a text, then with text and then the Committee votes on the amendments made to the text.
  4. She agrees very much so with what President Gargani and Mr. Perry have said already, namely the need to monitor very carefully the budget lines.

She then mentioned that she would not wish to speak too much about that since the next speaker, MEP Mercedes Echerer would expand on this question.


Mercedes Echerer (GREEN / EFA)

She thanked Barbara O’Toole for the kind invitation and had following points:

  1. She is very glad that some previous speakers have referred already to the problem of student mobility and especially how the current EU boycott of Austria was affecting already programs of exchange. She begs, therefore, once more everyone not to boycott Austria.
  2. About the budget lines she wishes not to say too much on this matter for right now she is in the process of collecting information and then she shall make a statement.
  3. She mentioned the need to give Sport a stronger mandate.
  4. How control of EU member states should look like, e.g. with regards to the Youth and Volunteer Services.


The Earl of Stockton (PPE)

He as journalist and coming from a family with a long tradition of publishers wants to draw the attention to several factors:

  1. the media and the market forces are becoming increasingly stronger through mergers
  2. the gap between the governors and governed is growing, e.g. the protest at Seattle showed that there are many more out there that care. Indeed genetic modified food was removed due to public pressure. However, there is a problem of culture becoming everywhere the same.
  3. That touches upon the relationship of the individual to the state and society, it is becoming increasingly harder and harder to identify yourself with the urban or even regional environment.
  4. Culture is there to give a clear sense of identity.


R. Evans (PSE)

Culture and Identity go together. Therefore, following points can be mentioned:

  1. Regional Cultures are becoming more and more important
  2. There is a need to preserve the Cultural Heritages of different regions. That includes minority languages. Support must be given where appropriate.
  3. Bringing Europe closer to the citizen, that is a great challenge.
  4. There is something to be said on how things are reported. Journalists are lazy people. To give but one example. A lot of them were waiting in the British Parliament for Tony Blair to report about the outcomes of the Lisbon Conference, so while waiting they became witness of a very small parliamentary debate about tourism in Britain. The next day that was extensively covered because the main pack of journalists happened to be there at the moment, all waiting for Tony Blair.
  5. There is a value to have first of all a prelimary exchange of views without a text. It can help the colleague to formulate a text.
  6. Then something needs to be said about the poor attendance of Committee members when it comes to hearings. Many take that as an opportunity to go off elsewhere.
  7. The monitoring of the budget needs to be developed further. It might be good to set up for this purpose a cross-party working group. They should follow specific budget lines, report repeatedly to the Committee, that is make certain inputs on the basis of consensus. There is a need to co-ordinate all of this work.


Lukas Vander Taelen (GREEN / EFA)

He sees four major points:

  1. There is a question about the image of the Committee, how it presents itself
  2. He believes that a text should be ready when giving the first report in order to speed up the working process of the Committee
  3. In Sport there are many non commercial clubs (basketball, etc.) which are dying out, so how to prevent that
  4. Aside from Hearings the Committee should invite more experts to inform the members of the Committee as now the case with someone being invited to speak about digitalization.


Garca Moura (PSE)

He said, “Our activities are conditioned by initiatives to the Commission. Our problem is that we have to react to the things coming from the outside.”

  1. There is a need to structure the work of the Committee in a better way upstream
  2. See and know what has a cultural impact, e.g. Internet upon Society
  3. Need more intermediary stages (not always go from to another stage)
  4. Ensure that things are properly implemented
  5. Visibility (transparency) is needed
  6. Legislative points:

a)       Council proposals – statistics for cultural goods

b)       Need to look at policy of distribution

c)       Imbalances exist in cultural policy.


President Gargani concluded with saying that he had tried to bring about a self-generated discussion in order to be able to evaluate what the Committee is doing. Many speakers have stressed:

-          Legislative activities

-          Hearing, e.g. Lukas Vander Taelen’s idea

-          Need to undertake initiatives

After listening to the contributions of many members, he would like to conclude by saying that the “Committee can be a sounding box for culture”.


Comments by Hatto Fischer:

Clearly the statement by MEP Apracio puts into perspective the dilemma and the weakness of the Committee on Culture, Education, Media, Youth and Sport. Matters have to be dealt with that do not have a ‘strong legal basis’ and yet they have at the same time a ‘high profile’.

Added to this has to be the role culture and education play within the ‘system of governances’ starting with the various political set-ups in the member states and not ending with the trilogy of decision making at European level. After all, the recent decision about Culture 2000 illustrates once more that the weak basis is expressed also in terms of an extremely low budget for cultural matters. Culture 2000 has such a low budget of 165 Mill. Euros so that spread over 5 years and 15 member states, it is impossible to imagine that any significant cultural innovation will come from that program.

Curious is that the discussion in the Committee about priorities did not touch upon this subject matter. Most of the contributions remain within the parliamentary system and are even more so reduced to making the work within the Committee more effective. Again there is a difference between complaining about this state of affairs and the drawing up of really emancipating ideas that facilitate an understanding of the situation and a working with incomplete conditions. It all depends what measures are set.

Again Mr. Apracio comes the closest to fulfilling such a demand of emancipation through the articulation of clear ideas. The same applies to comments by Barbara O’Toole because she points out rightly, that not individuals are to be blamed if reports and studies are not known sufficiently in time so that members of parliament can work on these documents and express their opinions, but that the administrative system within this trilogy has to be improved upon.

Nevertheless there was a general agreement that a good start was made by President Gargani in provoking such a discussion. It was needed and is but the beginning. For that reason and for future discussions, the main topic of ‘Culture and Identity’ should be taken much further and deeper into consideration. It is a most complex issue.

As a matter of fact, the Committee on Culture deals with all areas where identity formations play an outstanding role, e.g. youth, education, media, sport and culture. It is also a most sensitive area, thus not easily handled in an ordinary legislative way. If in future the charter of human rights is to be enriched by cultural rights, the departure point may well be what has been secured already in the German Constitution, namely the right given to every individual “to unfold his or her personality”.

Literature in this domain could be Erich Fromm, ‘The young man Luther’ describing very much the impact collective confessions in the monastery had upon the young Luther, that is upon his personality and identity. Another book could be Robert Musil, ‘The Man without Attributes’ related to the situation of Austria around First World War with every person having ten attributes, among them being a national, professional, etc. one, while the tenth was the one that did not take serious all the other nine. It was a sort of healthy prescription against Nationalism and any other kind of extremism.

Earl of Stockton when saying “it is becoming increasingly harder and harder to identify yourself with the urban or even regional environment”, he had touched upon one aspect of identity crisis. Naturally there is a difference between identity and identification, but the self-understanding that evolves out of living at a concrete place within a specific time has always to do with the ‘something’ that connects the two.

Insofar the Committee relates to the Commission and ongoing as well as future Community programs, it should be mentioned here that the Article 10 projects financed by the Structural Fund departed from a double premise because the Commission was getting increasingly worried that ‘over commercialization’ would lead to further destruction of ‘cultural identities’, while being nevertheless interested to find out how culture and more specifically cultural industries could contribute to the increase in jobs. Such premises set at the beginning of programs are most fruitful for those attempting to set up concrete projects in order to come to terms with that problem of commercialization destroying cultural identities.

Answers given to that range from new identity formations using culture for political purposes all the way to policy makers attempting to formulate and implement a conscious cultural policy as a means to offset such tendencies. By this is meant an economy driving out life, e.g. freeway cutting through a residential area, mega projects taking on a logic of their own, inward investments creating anonymous surroundings, all because they do not take the impact upon ‘culture’ into account.

Cultural policy means, therefore, in the first place negotiation power is given to the local and regional authorities in order to retain a minimum of ethical standards when it comes to agreeing what investments can intervene in a place. The city of Galway in Ireland has by now included in its official development plan cultural heritage and hired an officer to oversee that future implementations safeguard the cultural identity of the city as a whole and within the region.

Some work along those lines has been done by the mayor of Palermo, Mr. Orlando who together with Gianluca Solera brought through parliament a resolution on urban sustainable development with the orientation towards the city becoming a carrier of identity for the region. The Committee needs to relate to such references if it is at all interested in coming to terms with the cultural issues at hand, that is, what are the truly positive and equally negative or destructive interrelationships between culture and economic development.

The search for identities of the youth has to be taken into special consideration, while a further political analysis of the identity question could refer to the book by James Clifford, Predicament of Culture. This book refers to a world in which the otherness no longer exists and instead, as some Committee members in the debate pointed out, not only Coca Cola, but also everywhere the same boutiques can be found in every shopping mall across Europe. The loss of cultural diversity is like Alastair Macphail from the Commission would point out in a kind of analogy the loss of biodiversity. With niches and little publishers, reading corners etc. gone, identity becomes a problem.

James Clifford describes in many different kinds of essays this predicament of culture, including the example of Indians having to prove in court that they are Indians and hence by law allowed to govern their land differently from that of the white man who relates legal practices to property law.

The writer Fuentes from Mexico sees the identity of his people fragmented, no more than a broken mirror.

Therefore, when speaking about a cultural identity of Europe, the network of Cultural Capital Cities recommends first of all to mark, starting this year, the 5th of May as a day of culture based on dialogue and the freedom of expression. People need and want to talk to each other, but there are many kinds of censorships and losses of dialogues.

Finally, it has to be reminded that identity is as much a non-identity and that the ability to stay in dialogue with reality while being outside the system is a tension very few can hold out. For this reason, the search for identities should not be denied, but also the European space not redefined in the way Hegel perceived this logic of the negation of the negation to work in favor of a national identity. To follow such a nineteenth century philosophical model would mean really the end of all cultural otherness and differences in Europe.



Responses from people outside Parliament indicated at that time how crucial it is for them to know what is going on. Equally comments are most crucial, if political information is to be enriched within a common language and a context of further going understanding. Once the issues mentioned, are recognized, then judgment and evaluation alter. It is always true that one the tasks ahead are known, then the measures applied to establish the difference between success and failure will become crucial on how life within society is viewed and especially what political attitudes shall carry forward the deliberation process. Understanding of people for politics is really a prerequisite for Parliamentary Democracy.

Hatto Fischer

Brussels 2000

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