Johannes Ebert am 7. April 2014
„Kultur in den EU-Außenbeziehungen"

Dear Commissioner Vassiliou, 
Dear Mr. Vimont, 
Dear Mr. Løkkegaard, 
Dear Members of the European Parliament, 
Dear colleagues,For many years, Myanmar was a hard-line autocratic regime under military leadership, caring little about personal rights and freedom of its citizens. Myanmar was getting increasingly isolated from democratic countries. 

But fortunately no condition is permanent. In 2008, in a context of the opening and liberalization of the country, the Goethe-Institut could restart collaborations with local cultural partners in Yangon. Among them were the private music school Gitameit, the Yangon Film School in the field of documentary film, the state broadcaster MRTV4 and others. 

And then two months ago, in February 2014, we were able to reopen a full-fledged branch office in Yangon, with backing of the new civilian government. The opening ceremony included a large fusion concert of the Burmese Hsaing Waing Orchestra with European jazz musicians. In Myanmar we closely work together not only with local organizations, but also with our European partners like the Institut français and the British Council. 

Why do I tell you this? Because I believe that the Myanmar case is a strong indicator for the potential power of EU external cultural relations more generally. One may discuss at length about how the transition to democracy, which is ongoing and far from secured, first came about. It probably had many sources and origins, but I am convinced that culture plays an important role here: as a door-opener, as a vector of people-to-people contacts, as a subtle transporter of values and democratic aspirations. 

In a nutshell, in the “Preparatory Action” the consortium composed of the Goethe-Institut and seven partner organizations (BOZAR, British Council, Danish Cultural Institute, ECF European Cultural Foundation, Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen, Institut français and KEA European Affairs) has been assigned the task to take stock of current practices and structures that mark the cultural relations between the EU and a number of third countries. We were also asked to come up with recommendations on how these cultural relations could get more strategic direction and political clout. 

This task was attractive for a number of reasons. In this regard, I can only refer to my own house, although many in the consortium may have had similar motivations. For the Goethe-Institut, a European outlook is practically built in our DNA. This partly comes from history and being located in the heart of Europe, but it also comes from many years of cooperation projects with cultural actors, an increasing number of which are now multilateral. In all those cooperations, we are passionate about discussing and co-creating content, not confronting partners with ready concepts. From this type of cultural cooperation and dialogue, which functions along identical principles in third countries, we gathered a wealth of contacts, which in turn proved very helpful as the PA took its course. 

The team leader, Prof. Raj Isar, the key experts, Damien Helly and Rod Fisher, and many of our colleagues in the cultural institutes’ branch offices did an astonishing job in the research and consultation work. Together, we managed to identify meaningful patterns in which cultural relations currently unfold and what action the EU could take to render them more targeted, enriching and well-resourced in the future. Today and tomorrow, we will introduce some areas of high added value for EU actions. Let me just mention three such areas:

  1. Culture and Economy: this is all about Joint work on creative industries, creative hubs, business models and alternative ways of funding
  2. Culture Policy Dialogue: here we may consider Joint programmes for sharing experience, modes of building and sustaining capacities and innovative training schemes
  3. Culture and Development: we would aspire to new models of working together on an equal footing; empowerment through culture and global cultural citizenshipIt is crucially important that we exchange on those ideas as much as possible to obtain an informed “reality check”.

Which of those ideas, if any, ultimately become elements of the EU external relations toolbox depends primarily on the EU institutions. That will be a matter of legislative proposals, implementing decisions and budget allocations. And it depends – of course – on the institutions and actors who will conduct the programmes, organizations like the national cultural institutes, networks like EUNIC, private foundations, initiatives like “More Europe” and other civil society actors. 

Independence and artistic freedom are key conditions to make external cultural relations a success. We need culture in European diplomacy, but at the same time culture needs free spaces and encounters on an equal footing to flourish. The Goethe-Institut has made good experiences with the “arm’s length” principle in organizing its cultural and educational programmes. Similarly, many EU member states have chosen to give a broad mandate to independent bodies to carry cultural and educational policies – the framework is fixed by politics, not the formats and modalities. The wish for such relative remoteness from government was also strongly raised in the consultation, and that across many of the third countries. 

To conclude, I suggest we take a time machine and jump to the year 2020. How will we know, when looking back from 2020, that we have succeeded to strengthen and deepen EU external cultural relations? I think we will be able to speak of success, then, when most or all of the following conditions are fulfilled:
  • We have switched to a listening mode in our dealings with third country partners, first asking about their views and preferences before coming up with programs and interventions
  • Our exchange has become truly reciprocal: not only artists and artworks, but also learning and experience flows in both directions, from Europe to third countries and vice versa.
We have piloted a number of tools and instruments for external cultural relations, and chosen a small but powerful set after thorough feedback and evaluation. 

We have made clever use of synergies between public and private, national and EU level actors and initiatives, avoiding duplication of efforts. 

Our action is guided by a comprehensive understanding of culture, taking into account both its intrinsic value and its spill-over effects on the economy, the political and social spheres. 

I thank you for your attention and pass the floor to Prof. Isar, the team leader and scientific manager of the Preparatory Action.

Johannes Ebert, Generalsekretär des Goethe-Instituts 

Gehalten am 7. April 2014 in Brüssel. Es gilt das gesprochene Wort.