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Background and challenges of a cultural diplomacy of the European Union

Documento de trabajo
25 abril 2024

Background and challenges of a cultural diplomacy of the European Union

If the European Union wants to be a global player, it needs all the tools required to become one; wishing for it is simply not enough. One such tool is its own soft power, which has become a useful diplomatic tool and has great potential to promote universal values and democratic principles around the world. Given its role as a bridge to foster mutual understanding in the international community, culture should be a central and integral part of the EU’s external action. Culture is a key driver for addressing major global challenges in international relations. It is also an extremely important instrument for reconciling sometimes conflicting positions. If understood as a free and upward flow of ideas and creations, culture can also become a key enabler for peace and for conflict prevention, as well as a resource for stability and regeneration in any unstable context. A strategic framework for deepening international cultural relations has been established as a result of the EU’s current approach to its international cultural relations and cultural diplomacy. It has served to achieve many goals, including the creation of focal points in EU Delegations. There is a growing need to establish a permanent structural and institutional dimension for the EU’s international cultural relations and cultural diplomacy, as well as to strengthen the role of its Delegations. However, the international scenario has changed. In recent decades, the rise of antiliberal and authoritarian regimes around the world has jeopardised the EU’s cultural relations with these countries and their civil societies. These regimes challenge not only the architecture of the multilateral international society, but especially the universal values and rights at its heart. Culture has become yet another bone of contention in the increasing confrontation fuelled by non-liberal and authoritarian regimes, whose insidious understanding of culture does not include those ideas that have become universal, more open, and inclusive over time. These regimes understand culture under a false assumption—the existence of values arising from cultural relativism and hegemonic ethnocentrism that the West tries to impose in a (neo)colonial way. The EU must adapt to this new reality and commit itself fully. To do so, it needs instruments of its own to represent the cultural face of the EU worldwide and confront these regimes. The EU should be able to have its own common and consolidated cultural image because its cultural and political identity transcends the expression of the identity of its 27 Member States and contributes to strengthening its cultural ties with civil societies in third countries. Background and challenges of a cultural diplomacy of the European Union 8 Member States have their own national institutes of culture with representation abroad, and the EU collaborates meaningfully with them through EUNIC. Nevertheless, European culture cannot be fully expressed abroad through intergovernmental methods of voluntary and individual actions of the Member States alone. Representing and defining European culture is best done through a common and consolidated embodiment of the EU which goes beyond the image of the particular or fragmented cultures of the EU Member States.

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