by John O’ Leary (CD-News Team Program Coordinator)
When the Treaty of Rome was signed in 1957, Europe was intent on rebuilding the fabric of a continent ravaged the effects of war and economic disharmony. We are now facing a different world, but the challenges posed to European’s future are no less grave then the original architects faced in the post-war era.
In times of economic turmoil priorities become focused and controlled, so called non-essentials are slashed from budgets and burned from the political agenda. Despite the fact that culture remains a hugely significant force in society it is often the first sacrificial lamb for administrations the world over. Culture has never been centre stage politically for the past sixty years, and in the current climate, it is being cast into the wilderness completely.
In the preamble to the Treaty of Rome, culture is cited as the agent for unity amongst peoples, and for economic and social development. With the advent of the Maastricht Treaty, an action plan emerged aimed at supporting and helping member states in the promotion of their cultural heritage. With this in mind the “European Cultural Parliament” was founded in 2001 to strengthen the role of cultural and artistic ideas in the debate on the future of Europe.
Founder Karl-Erik Norrman took the unusual name from a phrase uttered by Yehudi Menuhin, the violinist, conductor and a tireless contributor to religious, social, and environmental organisations throughout the world in the year before he died: “artists need a parliament”. The European Culture Parliament is a forum for outstanding artists and intellectuals from all parts of Europe including philosophers, historians, designers and architects as well as those involved in theatre, music, art and literature. It is not just a collection of the usual suspects in European cultural policy discourse, but is widening the net to include younger and lesser heard voices.
The ECP believes that the European venture is based on a balance between respect for the differing cultures and cross-cultural tolerance and understanding. In practical terms, the European Cultural Parliament supports the ‘European Capital of Culture’ project, strengthening the role of cultural and artistic ideas in the debate on the future of Europe.
The strength of its culture and arts distinguishes Europe from other important actors in the world. To compensate for the dearth of ideas between artists and politicians, the ECP acts as a platform for a vital voice and energy is missing in today’s political discourse. The European Union is dominated by technocrats; the ECP hopes to inject fresh vitality into what has become a rather stale and technical debate.
One of the main assumptions was that in the future, the regulation of cultural markets will be one of the key, if not the most important element of cultural policies. However, Europe has struggled to find a way to integrate adequately both cultural and economic aspects of cultural goods and services in its policies. In most current debates about European integration, culture remains an abstract term, often used to illustrate how European integration brings more than economic benefits.
It is commonplace to read or hear statements declaring that an economically, monetarily and politically integrated European space will confirm a centuries-old European identity, respect for common values and common European cultural heritage, which have all been foundations for the development of modern European states.
But prosperity will only bring you so far, as Jacques Delors so eloquently put it, “Europe needs a soul”, that only culture and the arts can provide. Even though culture is said to be so fundamentally important, the European Union has never explicitly formulated its cultural policy, the ECP plays a vital role in addressing the imbalance.