When the founding fathers of the European Union set out to shape a Europe where war would become an impossibility, the economy was their primary tool to achieve this goal. From the outset, the notion of common economic benefit was the basic principle of the European project to guarantee both prosperous and peaceful societies. Ever since, the Europeans who were promised economic prosperity have supported EU expansion and integration.
However, since the recent economic and debt crisis hit the continent, it has become clear that the mere pursuit of economic wealth cannot be the basis of the Union’s future. For it is culture that lies at the heart of human development and civilisation. By focussing on economic interests, the founders of the EU forgot to give Europe something to identify with beyond day-to-day politics. As Jacques Delors put it: “Nobody can fall in love with the single market.” Culture should be seen as a set of distinctive spiritual and material features that characterize a society and a social group. Culture includes literature and the arts, as well as ways of life, value systems, traditions and beliefs.
Denmark’s decision to re-establish border controls, the discussions about the bailout for Greece, as well as the recent success of the eurosceptical right-wing populists in Finland all prove how fragile the achievements of the process of European unification are. European citizens have to identify with something that goes beyond economic interests. The economy – as well as all fields of politics – should thus be based on culture. Culture must play a more important role in the socio-economic framework.
Europe is the laboratory for this new framework. The EU already possesses the tools and the capacity to generate, develop and create new management practices and decision-making processes similtaneously at local, national and multinational level. Within this laboratory, culture needs to be integrated into all levels and sectors of political decision-making and civil society. Therefore, in a move similar to the creation of its exisiting platforms “access to culture” and “creative and cultural industries”, the EU must set up a European Culture and Economy Platform that gathers experts from both the cultural and economic sectors. This platform could function as a think-tank to develop common strategies, actions and policy proposals, and lead to concrete recommendations to ensure the sustainable development of Europe, its regions, cities and communities in a global context.
The platform should be set up as a unique civil society project based on the “European agenda for culture in a globalizing world”, demanding that culture becomes a component of any European policy and of Europe’s relations with the world. This new platform would be quite distinct to former platforms conducted by the European Commission, since it would be committed to the interests of the EU, but, at the same time, would be driven by civil society. By including politicians and representatives of the economic as well as the culture sectors, such a platform would incorporate the intrinsic interests of culture, business and politics, and create synergies by fostering cooperation among the various stakeholders represented.
The importance of culture in such a dialogue must not be underestimated – after all, culture was a major factor in influencing the international forms of trade and business that originated in Europe and it can make a valuable contribution to shaping these forms of trade in the future. Moreover, given Europe’s exceptional cultural wealth, business and culture might develop joint strategies to view and position culture as a “pioneer species” for social and economic improvement and upswing.
European citizens have to make a choice of what kind of Europe they would like to have in the future: a careless Europe that carries on consuming the world’s resources, or a responsible Europe that acts as a role model to the rest of the world. We would prefer a Europe that deals responsibly with our common future and that is open to the world – a Europe that is both globally effective and respected. Thereby, Europe’s culture plays a major role.
A German version of the article can be found here.
A Soul for Europe is a civil society initiative that employs a novel, future-oriented model for cooperation between civil society and policy-makers. One of the main ideas is to create a Europe of the Europeans with the citizens’ responsibility for political mechanisms, rather than just a Europe of institutions and regulations. From bases in Amsterdam, Belgrade, Berlin, Brussels, Porto and Tbilisi, the “A Soul for Europe” Initiative is building an international network of European cities and regions, the cultural sector and business as well as European policy-makers. The very heart of the network is the strategy group with 55 outstanding individuals from 21 countries.