Today, the European Union faces challenges that make culture a key battleground in struggles over identity, cohesion and solidarity. Among them are resurgent nationalism, racism and populism, the related othering of migrants, disputes over historical memory, the implications of Brexit. These challenges have contributed, as the French President Emmanuel Macron just recently put it, to the emergence of a ‘civil war’ on the plane of ideas and values. Moreover, they all bear directly upon our cultural self-identifications as well as the nature of our cultural engagement with the rest of the world.
The new European Agenda for Culture, to be published on 22 May by the European Commission, will see the light of day in this highly fraught context. The Creative Europe programme has focused in major ways on the contribution of the creative and cultural industries to employment, skills, building the Digital Single Market and achieving global competitiveness. EU cultural strategies have also promoted the flourishing of the cultural in non-instrumental ways. The new Agenda for Culture will have all this to do and much more in the current conjuncture and our workshop will therefore need to consider it both critically and constructively from a variety of political, legal and practical perspectives. Notable among them is the place of the EU as a cultural actor on the international scene. The deployment of cultural resources as a currency of ‘soft power’ has been a particular focus since the Preparatory Action of 2014 on ‘Culture in EU External Relations’. EU cultural diplomacy remains challenged today by the inherent tension between instrumental approaches and the flourishing of cultural communication and exchange in and for themselves. How well does the new Agenda for Culture address this tension and rise to the challenge of ‘global cultural citizenship’ advocated by the Preparatory Action?