EU: Incorporating Culture in Foreign Policy

In 2017, the European Council will see a new president, and major elections within the European Union might bring new state leaders into power that prefer to follow the United Kingdom and break away from the 28-country union. For much traditional foreign policy, there is a focus on the economic and political relationship (Liland 1993) with our neighbours known as Hard Power. However, an additional yet increasingly important implementation of foreign policy is through culture, a part of Soft Power. Finding the right balance between the two should result in Smart Power.

Non-traditional actors such as cultural institutes and other non-governmental bodies work to promote their home country’s culture such as language, music and art in a host country. This cultural promotion can affect a person’s national and/or European identity.
On June 8 2016, the European Commission announced a new “strategy to put culture at the heart of EU international relations”.
EU High Representative and Vice-President Federica Mogherini states:

“Culture has to be part and parcel of our foreign policy. Culture is a powerful tool to build bridges between people, notably the young, and reinforce mutual understanding. It can also be an engine for economic and social development. As we face common challenges, culture can help all of us, in Europe, Africa, Middle East, Asia, stand together to fight radicalisation and build an alliance of civilisations against those trying to divide us. This is why cultural diplomacy must be at the core of our relationship with today’s world.”

This strategy promotes the EU as one body of 28 member states and their collective relationship with the world. Yet how are cultural relationships managed within the EU?

There are multiple internal EU organisations which focus on the relationship between member states as well as the implementation of cultural policy. The European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC) is just one example, bringing together institutes and embassies from the 28 member states in the EU. Networks of clusters within 90 countries worldwide promote cultural diversity and cultural dialogue for internal EU states as well as the EU as a whole. Clusters outside of the EU will deal with the new strategy for International policy in promoting collective European culture externally.

Promoting Spanish Culture in the Netherlands

Fernando Fernandez Aguayo Muñoz is culture counsellor at the embassy of Spain in the Netherlands. As a result, he is a part of the Dutch Cluster of EUNIC. Speaking unofficially at the event European Cultural Policies Abroad, Amsterdam January 12 2017, he believes that foreign policy should be based around cultural diplomacy.

Muñoz puts forward three cultural guidelines essential to successful cultural policy:

1. Maximum visibility and impact.

2. Funding and sponsorship.

3. Institutional coordination.

All three of these points are reflected in his experience with Dutch cultural institutions. He stresses the importance of coordination in organising Spanish cultural events in the Netherlands.

“From my own experience in the Netherlands where there is a big cultural offering, it is pointless to organise cultural events on our own. The visibility and the impact is very, very limited. So what we are basically doing is to support Dutch cultural institutions in festivals, fairs, [and] to help them include Spanish artists or Spanish books in projects. This way I think we create synergies and of course a way to be more efficient and more effective in this field.”

Dutch Sinterklaas, who arrives every year to the country on a boat from Spain (Erik Bro, Wikimedia)

An exception, however, is the annual Sinterklaas concert the Spanish Embassy organise themselves to welcome Sinterklaas to the Netherlands. However, it plays on the tale that the Sint comes to the country from Spain and therefore reinforces the link between the two countries.

It is not always easy however to support cultural promotion. Muñoz says, “culture is the first area where cuts are made. [It] is key to maximise the resources we have by coorperating with other institutions, either the Dutch, or […] other organisations.”

Pooling together EU resources both internally and externally allows actors to promote cultural relations in an age when it is no longer enough to be reliant on simple diplomatic relations.

2017: Moving forward

Munõz believes that culture has an important role to play in European dynamics bringing countries together.
He says, “culture is a bridge, and especially in this period when Europe and the idea of Europe is facing so many challenges, we have to really boost culture as the best solution to handle these challenges. Culture has no borders or frontier and that’s why we should try to defend our cultural institutions, in respect for this diversity.”
2016 European politics drove the EU member states further apart. However, there is hope that 2017’s international policy for culture can bring them and the rest of the world together.

– Sarah Maclean-Morris

(Feature Image: Rama assumed, via Wikimedia Commons)

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