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New Narrative for Europe book published

Culture has long been on the European agenda. Yet ideas of ‘European culture’ have either been too abstract or faced opposition from nation-states. Ib Bondebjerg reports on New Narrative for Europe – the latest attempt to define a common European culture.

‘Europe is a state of mind’, ‘the mind and body of Europe’ and ‘Narrative for Europe’ are not phrases you normally think of in connection with the European Commission and José Manuel Barroso. But these are the catch words behind the EU’s latest cultural initiative, New Narrative for Europe, launched in spring 2013.

Last month Barraso launched the publication of a new book, The Mind and Body of Europe: a New Narrative, which documents the activities carried out during the pilot phase of the New Narrative for Europe project. This follows a series of public seminars held in Brussels, Warsaw, Milan, Berlin and Venice to explore the values which unite European citizens and to come up with a new vision for Europe, and the unveiling of a final declaration, signed by artists, intellectuals and scientists, in Berlin early this year.

Europe’s evolving cultural agenda

For decades the EU was apparently mostly occupied with media and culture as part of the establishing of a common audiovisual market. It was about creating a viable market for the production and circulation of audiovisual products and about making sure competition laws for a free market were established, also in this area.

But in fact the EU has always carried a much more cultural agenda underneath the economic. This agenda is already visible in the Treaty of Rome (1957), which talks about sustaining the ‘flowering of cultures’ in the member states.

Before the EU became a more active part in developing a European cultural policy, the Council of Europe acted as a kind of cultural forum for Europe. In 1954, even before the Rome Treaty, they adopted the European Cultural Convention, which stresses the importance of the common European heritage and of communicating traditions, history, language and the cultural exchange between nations in Europe. It was also the Council of Europe that established Eurimages in 1988, a program which together with the MEDIA programmes from 1987-2014 have helped – however modestly – to enhance the creative and cutural sector of Europe and co-production and distribution between nation states.

La Princessa in Liverpool

Culture has long been on the European agenda. From the European Cultural Convention in 1954 to the creation of European Capitals of Culture, such as Liverpool (above) in 2008.

The cultural dimension of Europe has often been caught between overwhelmingly ambitious, abstract visions of a common European identity, too little funding, and the resistance from nation-states to make culture an important part of the European integration. The so called Copenhagen Declaration (1973) , the Solemn Declaration of the European Union (1983) and the Resolution on European Cultural Identity (1985) we find ambitious but also abstract notions of a European cultural identity. These declarations  all stress the common European identity in more depth than the pragmatic  ‘unity in diversity’ concept, which became the official slogan with the Maastricht Treaty (1992)

A new active agenda for Creative Europe

However, we have also from the 1990s and onward seen a number of programmes and concrete initiatives trying to create synergy and connection between national cultures in Europe. Initiatives like the European Capital of Culture programme established in 1985, has been a concrete laboratorium for ‘becoming European’ (see Monica Sasatelli’s book Becoming European), just as the film and media programmes have gradually developed an umbrella of activities aiming at the development of a more integrated European creative sector.

Folowing the Maastrich Treaty, which did put culture more forcefully on the agenda of EU policies, a more coordinated cultural policy started to develop after 2000. What we see is also a rising understand of the need for pan-European initiatives in the light of globalisation and digitalisation.

Cultural policy has moved higher up the EU agenda since 2000 and it also becomes clear that cultural organisations are starting to organise transnationally. Culture Action Europe is a European organisation for cultural policy, and many culture areas are now organised on a European level. With the new Creative Europe programme (launched earlier this year) we have moved to a new level in cultural policy – a broader and more active support for culture and the creative sector as a whole. Culture has been recognized to a larger degree as both an important economic factor and as an integrative force.

New Narrative for Europe: alliance with the creative sector

President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso launches New Narrative for Europe.

The new initiative A New Narrative for Europe fits into this historical development, because it addresses artists, intellectuals and scientist, while at the same time asking the creative and scientific sector to contribute to the creation of European narratives. The initiative acknowledges the power of culture and the power of narratives when it comes to creating a common understanding and dialogue across national boundaries and identities.

The initiative has been organised through a cultural committee of European creatives, such as the Icelandic sculpturor Olafur Eliasson and the Hungarian writer Gyorgy Konrad. The New Narrative for Europe declaration points to the universal principles in European societies and the richness and diversity of culture as background and dynamics for society and politics. Europe is a state of mind formed and fostered by its spiritual, philosophical, artistic and scientific inheritance, and driven by the lessons of history,’ the declaration states. ‘Europe needs brave, imaginative and enlightened political leaders who speak and understand the language of Europe as a political body, animated and energize by culture’.

Words are free, and good will is not enough. But the declaration at least comes on the back of new concrete cultural initiatives and other reports and policy decisions and documents in which culture plays an important role. It is not often the EU commission has spoken so directly about the political importance of culture for EU politics; it is not often they have appealed so strongly to the creative community; and it is not so often they have talked about the importance of ‘sharing narratives’ as part of developing the European public sphere.

As a project MeCETES deals explicitly with the role of film, television and narratives in cultural encounters across Europe. We look at how we perceive and use European narratives in our everyday life; how we talk about them; and how they may influence both our national mind and our feeling of being Europeans. Our project in fact seems to be a very timely comment to the latest development in the long and slow development of a European cultural policy.

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