Culture is at the beginning and the end of development
(Léopold Sédar Senghor)
Published on 18 April 2012
In April 2009, the European Commission promised to give priority to culture in development. Today, the Commission does not even mention culture anymore in its recent communication An Agenda for Change. What happened?
It has been three years now since we were invited by the European Commission, in April 2009, to a colloquium entitled “Culture and creativity, vectors for development”. Aware of the fact that recommendations from symposia on development are rarely followed by concrete actions, we accepted this invitation with a certain degree of scepticism. However, reassured by the Commission’s previous commitments and buoyed up by the hope that this symposium could mark a new beginning for a sectoral approach to culture as a factor of development; over 800 high-ranking officials from over a hundred countries honoured this invitation.
Some 250 artistes, creators and culture professionals from ACP and EU cultural and development sectors elaborated diagnoses, identified priorities and formulated recommendations which were compiled in a document named «the Brussels Declaration" endorsed by the Commissioner for Development Mr Louis Michel and President Abdou Diouf, Secretary-General of O.I.F.
In the presence of the President of Mali and Ministers of Culture from 50 ACP States and the ACP Secretary-General, the Commissioner for Development, endorsed the recommendations of the "Brussels declaration" and made, among others, the following commitment on behalf of the Commission :
Make culture a priority sector for development policy ;
Instruct the Heads of Delegation to analyse, together with national decision makers the respective national cooperation programmes, in order to define the possibilities of allocating or increasing resources to support the cultural sector in its economic, artistic and social dimensions;
Establish a fund for institutional support to countries wishing to develop cultural policies; Propose that the new intra-ACP programme take our recommendations into consideration;
Propose that each region include a cultural cooperation protocol in their EPA; and
Arrange for a regular monitoring mechanism of the implementations of the commitments taken in the Colloquium.
In 2010, the Commission confirmed its commitment by becoming involved in the work process initiated by the Spanish Presidency of the EU which culminated with the inclusion of culture in the resolution of Heads of State at the Millennium Summit entitled "United to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)" which was also signed by the Commission.
Two years later, however, we, the ACP and European professionals, artistes and creators, note with consternation that the recent Communication of the Commission entitled “Increasing the impact of the EU development policy : agenda for change” does not even mention culture as a factor for development, let alone make it a priority sector for development policy as the Commission had publicly committed to 3 years ago. The Communication also ignores the European Parliament’s resolution of 12 May 2011 on the cultural dimensions of the EU external actions which “underlines the cross-cutting nature of culture” and “believes that it needs to be taken into consideration in all EU external policies”.
We learnt also that the post for the agent responsible for culture at DG Dev-Co should be removed – is this anticipating the fact that there would not be any cultural programmes in the EU development policies anymore?
Why this sudden change of mind? Could it mean that the Commission is reneging on the solemn commitment made in 2009 because it no longer believes in it? At a time when the UN General Assembly- in adopting its resolution on culture and development - finally recognised the role of culture in development, the Commission which played a major role in the preparation of this resolution, seems to want to ignore the role of cultural actors in societal change.
Could this mean that, for the Commission, improved governance and progress towards democracy are more dependent on external financial support than to the profound internal changes to which artistes and intellectuals are contributing? The Arab Spring has been an exemplary demonstration of the fact that it is in the minds and hearts of people that great societal changes take shape, and artistes and creators were among the first to demand democracy and freedom. During the symposium, we had highlighted the economic impact of the cultural sector as a source of income and employment. Does the Commission now wish to exclude the cultural sector which could contribute up to 3% of GDP and which is now taken into account in national and international poverty-reduction strategies? Does the search for peace and security in the world not involve supporting cultural cooperation programmes to promote better understanding among peoples?
Although the search for aid effectiveness might justify restricting development cooperation to 2 or 3 sectors, is it not surprising that culture is excluded when development research confirms that the neglect of the cultural dimension is one of the major reasons for the failure of our development strategies? Many Finance Ministers have understood this and realise that any new investment, in agricultural development projects, for example, will be wasted if the beneficiaries’ perceptions and beliefs are not considered. By their ability to challenge and question standards and traditions, artistes and creators are playing an essential role in the change of attitudes which is vital to development. To be noted also that supporting the cultural sector costs hardly more than building a few kilometres of road.
We the culture Professionals believe that the effectiveness of Europe’s external aid will depend on the relevance of the priorities negotiated with partner countries and the coherence of its development policies. That is why we wish to work with the Commission to jointly devise ways and means of honouring the solemn commitments made on 3 April 2009.
At the end of the symposium in Brussels, the Commissioner for Development said, “I would like to tell artistes and cultural actors that they should not be sceptical”. However, the current situation three years on confirms our fears. Nonetheless, aware of the difficulties of implementing the cultural dimension of development, we call on the European Commission, and in particular to you, Mr President, to honour the Commission's commitments to consider culture as an important factor for development and to re- include the cultural sector in the concept and realities of EU development policies. For our part, we wish to assure the Commission of our constructive cooperation in defining concrete and innovative ways to keep in line with the spirit of the Brussels Declaration.
Please accept Mr. President, the assurance of our highest consideration.
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