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  • Leander Papagianneas

Cultural Diplomacy: A Strategic Narrative for the EU

Updated: Oct 22, 2020

cultural diplomacy, strategy, Brussels, public relations, communication, EU

EU's foreign relations are designed to resolve conflicts and foster international understanding. They are based on diplomacy and respect for international rules. Trade, humanitarian aid, and development cooperation are also paramount.

Populism, Brexit, rising inequality and xenophobia make the EU’s structural power extremely fragile. European culture has never been so undermined as before. While tensions with regard to economic and political differences matter, the most critical juncture is culture. Does Europe posses a shared common culture which can facilitate further integration? If yes, what aspects of European culture could promote a stronger and more resilient political union?

A similar question is addressed in the book Rebranding Europe (2017) where recommendations are formulated on how to use culture for reinforcing the image of Europe and strengthening cohesion in Europe. The EU has suffered image damage ever since the European identity crisis started in the begin of this decade.

However, cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue are an integral part of the values of the European Union and play an essential role in promoting human rights, tolerance, and non-discrimination across the planet. Culture is a form of diplomacy and Brussels is focusing on its increasingly positive role in international relations.

The European Union aims to reinforce the effectiveness and impact of its foreign policy by integrating international cultural relations to its foreign policy instruments, while recognising the need for a cross-cutting approach to culture and inclusiveness. This was outlined in the Council conclusions on 8 April 2019, that have established the EU strategic approach to international cultural relations.

The conclusions also call on members states, the Commission and the European External Action Service to strengthen coordination and strategic guidance on the best way to promote international cultural relations.

The focus on culture can mean a lot to refresh our idea about the common European Judeo-Christian heritage; colonialism and mostly, centuries of shared suffering. The EU is also focusing on the role of cities to promote international dialogue and people-to-people exchange.

As an antidote against populism and tribalism, cultural diplomacy between cities fosters cooperation and sustainable development. Intercultural dialogue is essential for avoiding conflict and the marginalisation of citizens on the basis of their cultural identity.

EU’s new strategic narrative should prove that it is more than the consumption of global products, but a mindful investment in the character and soul of different European states. If indeed, investments in art, science and culture increase. If indeed, musicians, painters, biologists, physicists, theatre makers, sportsmen and other public figures can open a dialogue between different cities around Europe, its cultural diplomacy could be much more effective.

Nevertheless, some doubts remain, since the European Identity has never been sufficiently sustained by pro-European politicians. It has never been sufficiently defined, and our common Judeo-Christian heritage sometimes inspires xenophobia. The question remains whether the new, strategic narrative for common ground in cultural diplomacy can open up space to re-conceptualize our values of human dignity, freedom, equality, democracy and respect for human rights; to strengthen the EU as a global actor.

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