ESSAYMarianna McMillan [Spanish version]

I. Introduction

On the 31st of March 2016, Federica Mogherini, the High Representative for Foreign affairs and Security Policy of the European Commission, launched a Cultural Diplomacy Platform to enhance the visibility and understanding of the Union through intercultural dialogue and engagement. By engaging all stakeholders from a bottom-up perspective, the platform forces us to reconsider the context in which it operates, the internal constraints it wishes to address, and lastly, the foreign policy objective it aspires to. However, in order to export a European cultural image abroad with a single, coherent voice, the Union must first address its ‘unity in diversity’ of national cultures without threatening the national identities of the individual Member States. Therefore, the EU as an international actor and regional organization, based on unity in diversity, has an internal need for intercultural dialogue and negotiation of shared identities (European External Action Service, 2017). Not only to establish conditions favorable to Brussels policies but as an instrument for the EU to counter external, non-traditional security threats - terrorism, populist narratives, cyber insecurity, energy insecurity and identity ambiguity.

This understanding of culture as a potential instrument or means for Europe’s soft power is the basis for the analysis of this paper. In doing so, the purpose of the article is to explore the significance of culture relative to soft power and foreign policy as theoretical foundations for understanding the logic of the EU’s New Cultural Diplomacy Platform.

II. Unity in diversity through the New Cultural Diplomacy Platform

If the European Union aspires to a “rules based” liberal order founded on cooperation, then to what extent can the EU obtain global influence and domestic unity by preserving its interests and upholding its values, if it lacks both a single voice and a common external policy?

The lack of a single voice is symptomatic of a history of integration based on diversity rather than equality. And the incoherent common external policy refers to the coordination problem, in which the cultural relations remains a competence of the individual Member States and the Common Foreign and Security Policy remains a supranational competence of the EU since the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992 (Banus, 2015:103-105 and Art 6, TFEU).

With the acceleration of globalization, non-traditional security challenges such as cyber warfare, climate change, radicalization, refugee and economic migration and energy insecurity test the EU’s idea of a common Foreign Policy between the EU institutions and the individual member states. These threats not only demand a new security paradigm but a new coexistence paradigm, in which security is directed towards radicalization reduction and coexistence is directed towards civil societies based on democratic order and rule of law (European Commission, 2016). For example, regarding the regional integration process, the process sustains itself by promoting narratives of shared cultural heritage. However, growing skepticism towards immigrants following the refugee crisis fosters a conflicting narrative with the wider societal and communitarian narrative projected by the EU – The European Commission (EC), the European External Action Service (EEAS), the European Parliament (EP), and the Council of the European Union. The Union’s failure to address the pervasive divisions between member states in issues pertaining to the Brexit negotiation, the financial crisis or international terrorism, further fuel populist narratives and solidify nationalist prejudices against the EU These institutional and structural constraints  – diversity and shared competences – reflect the dynamics of the cultural landscape and its unintended consequences on the European Union as a political entity (institutional), the European project as an integration process (unity in diversity) and the European identity as a single voice (social).

In response to a blurring of the distinction between internal constraints and external threats – radicalization, energy and cyber insecurity and populist regimes –, EU High Representative Federica Mogherini established the New Cultural Diplomacy Platform (NCP hereafter) in 2016.

In order to eliminate terminological ambiguity, cultural diplomacy is understood from both a realist “balance of power” approach and a conceptual “reflexive” approach (Triandafyllidou and Szucs, 2017). Whereas the prior refers to an art of dialogue to advance and protect the nation’s interest abroad (ex. joint EU cultural events – film festivals, bilateral programs – Supporting the Strengthening of Tunisia’s Cultural Sector, creation of European Cultural Houses, Culture and Creativity Programme, Media and culture for development in the Southern Mediterranean region, and the NCP). The latter, a more reflexive approach, is a policy in itself, promoting sustainable social and economic development through people-to-people diplomacy (e.g. cultural exchanges – like Erasmus Plus, the Development and Cooperation Instrument and its sub-programmes, the Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), the ENI Cross Border Cooperation, the Civil Society Facility). By applying it to the EU; on one hand, it contributes to global visibility and influence of the EU through soft power and, on the other hand, it seeks to promote economic growth and social cohesion through civil societies (Trobbiani, 2017: 3-5).

Despite being financed by the Partnership Instrument (PI), which has for its objective the enhancement of the “widespread understanding and visibility of the Union”, the EU’s NCP is a balance of both the realist and conceptual approach to cultural diplomacy (European Commission, 2016b). As such it is a strategy of resilience that responds to a new reality in which the emergence of non-traditional security threats and a shift in citizens from independent observers to active participants demands a constructive dialogue that engages all the concerned stakeholders – national governments, international organizations and civil societies (Higgot, 2017: 6-8 and European Union, 2016). As a strategy of societal or cultural resilience, resilience is understood in terms of the society’s inclusiveness, prosperity and security. According to the Global Strategy of 2016, it aims for pluralism, coexistence and respect by “deepening work on education, culture and youth” (European Union, 2016). In other words, it invests in creative industries, such as Think Tanks, Cultural Institutes or local artists, to preserve a cultural identity, further economic prosperity and enhance soft power.

By seeking global understanding and visibility, the EU’s recent interest in International Cultural Relations (ICR) and Culture Diplomacy (CD) reflect the entity’s ongoing need for a single voice and a single common external policy. This effort demonstrates the significance of culture in soft politics by highlighting the relationship between culture and foreign policy. Perhaps the more appropriate question is to what extent can Mogherini’s NCP convert culture in a tool of soft power? And is such a strategy – ICR and NCP – an effective communication and coordination model before the current internal and external security threats, or will it undermine its narrative?

III. Culture and Soft Power

The shift in the concept of security demands a revisiting of the concept of soft power. In this case, cultural diplomacy must be understood in terms of soft power and soft power must be understood in terms of capacity - capacity to attract and influence. Soft power according to Joseph Nye’s notion of persuasion grows out of “intangible power resources”: “such as culture, ideology and institutions” (Nye, 1992: 150-170).

The EU as a product of cultural dialogues is a civilian power, a normative power and a soft power. The power of persuasion of the EU relies on its legitimacy and credibility in its institutions (European Union, 2016a and Michalski, 2005: 124-141). For this reason, the consistency between the identity the EU wishes to portray and the practices it should pursue is fundamental to the projection of itself as a credible international actor.  This consistency will be necessary if the EU is to fulfill its goal to “enhance unity in diversity”. To do otherwise, would contradict its liberal values and solidify the populist prejudices against the EU. Thus, internal legitimacy and credibility as sources of soft power are ultimately dependent on the consistence between the EU’s identity narrative and democratic values reflected in its practices (European Union, 2016). Cultural diplomacy responds to the inconsistency by demanding reflection on one hand and enhancing that identity on the other hand. For example, the positive images of Europe through the OPEN Neighborhood communication program helps advance specific geopolitical interests by creating better lasting conditions for cooperation with countries like Algeria, Libya and Syria to the south and Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine to the East. This is relevant to what Nye coined soft power or “co-optive power”: “The ability of a country to structure a situation so that other countries develop preferences or define their interests in consistence with its own” (see Nye, 1990: 168). Soft power applied to culture can work both indirectly or directly. It works indirectly when it is independent of government control (e.g. Popular culture) and directly via cultural diplomacy (e.g. NCP). Foreign policy actors - can act as advocates of a certain domestic culture both consciously – e.g. politicians – and unconsciously – e.g. local artists. By doing so they serve as agents for other countries or channels for their soft power.

V. Culture and foreign policy

If soft power grows out of the EU’s culture, domestic values and policies then culture is both a foundation and resource of foreign policy (Liland, 1993: 8). First, as a foundation, foreign policy operates within the cultural framework of any given society or society in which it wishes to interact. Thus, necessitating a domestic cultural context capable of being influenced (e.g. the difference in the accession negotiations between Croatia and Turkey and the appeal of economic integration, on one hand, and the ability to adjust human rights policies, on the other hand). And secondly, as a resource, the cultural interchange yields power to the EU. This ability of attitudes, feelings and popular images to influence foreign policy, domestic politics and social life demonstrates culture’s ability to be a power resource of its own (Liland, 1993: 9-14 and Walt, 1998). This is significant because cultural interchange will increase as the acceleration of globalization makes communication faster, cheaper and more accessible. And lastly, as part of foreign policy, it diffuses information and obtains favorable opinions in the nation at the receiving end (Liland, 1993:12-13).

Therefore, Cultural Diplomacy at the forefront of European Foreign Policy does not signify the use of culture to substitute the traditional foreign policy goals – geography, power, security, political and economic – but the use of culture to support and legitimize them. In other words, culture is not the primary agent in the process to foreign policy rather the foundation that reinforces, contradicts or explains its content (e.g. Wilsonian idealism in the 1920s can be traced to a domestic culture of “manifest destiny” at the time) (Liland, 1993 and Kim, 2011: 6).

V. Conclusions

The purpose of the article has been to highlight the significance of culture relative to soft power and foreign policy as theoretical foundations for understanding the logic of the EU’s New Cultural Diplomacy Platform. By identifying culture as playing an integral role in contributing to social cohesion within the EU and strengthening its influence as a global actor outside the EU, we can deduct culture as a source of soft power and an instrument of foreign policy. But the sources of soft power – culture, political values and foreign policy – are dependent on three conditions: (1) a favorable context; (2) credibility in values and practice; and (3) a perception of legitimacy and moral authority (see Nye, 2006). The EU must first legitimize itself as a coherent actor and moral authority so as to be able to effectively deal with its existential crises (European Union, 2016a: 9 and Tuomioja, 2009).

To do so, it must overcome its institutional and structural constraints by collectively confronting its external non-traditional security threats. This demands a strategy of resilience in which the EU is not a threat to national identity as a cultural, economic and legislative entity (Higgot, 2017: 11-13 and La Porte, 2016).

Various themes relating to culture and soft power, culture and foreign policy and the EU and its internal dynamics are covered in this article, however little has been said on the impact of a “uniform cultural system” and how foreign policy can influence the culture of a society. Culture is not an end in itself nor are the intercultural dialogues and the development on cultural diplomacy. The Union must be cautious to evolving into a dehumanizing bureaucratic structure that favors a standard culture to counter both its internal constraints and external, non-traditional security threats. If democracy is one of the prevailing values of the EU and democracy is a system based on trust in human responsibility, then the EU cultural diplomacy must foster trust rather than impose a standard culture. According to Vaclav Havel, it can do so by supporting cultural institutions respective of the plurality and freedom of culture, such as those fundamental to one’s national identity and traditions of the land. In other words, culture must be subsidized to best suit its plurality and freedom as is the case with heritage sites, libraries, museums and public archives – or witnesses to our past (Havel, 1992). By incentivizing historical reflection, cultural diplomacy promotes shared narratives of cultural identities. To do otherwise does not only solidify the populist rhetoric and internal prejudices against the Union but is endemic to cultural totalitarianism, or worse, cultural relativism.

To aspire to a “uniform culture system” through an agreed European narrative would be to trade off pluralism and freedom and consequently contradict, first the nature of culture and secondly, the liberal values in which the Union was founded on.



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