The European Parliament's culture committee last week asked the European Commission to strengthen the role of culture in the EU's external policy, asking EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to appoint an EU 'cultural ambassador'.
In a non-legislative report adopted on 17 March, MEPs underlined the importance of cultural cooperation with non-EU countries as a way to advance Europe's interests and values in the world – including democracy, human rights, conflict prevention and peace building. To streamline fragmented national budgets, lawmakers would like to see a common EU strategy on culture implemented via a specific department of the EU's External Action Service, led by Catherine Ashton. An "EU ambassador-at-large" should be appointed and one person should be designated in each EU representation overseas to take care of cultural relations and promote "European culture," they added. The committee asked the Commission to launch a consultation this year on developing a culture strategy in the EU's external actions, followed by a communication. Competing on cultural influence Lawmakers believe that European interests are best served and its competitive position and attractiveness for tourists, talent, artists, business and students best improved if the bloc speaks with one voice in the cultural domain. While the United States' cultural presence in the world is slightly declining, it remains extremely powerful, while competition for global cultural influence is getting fiercer with the rise of emerging powers such as India and China, the committee noted. China, for instance, is in the process of establishing 100 Confucius Centres to steer cultural diplomacy, MEPs pointed out. France has a long-standing tradition of positioning itself culturally and linguistically across the globe through the Alliance Française, and the United Kingdom does the same through the British Council. To secure Europe's role as a global cultural player, lawmakers suggest developing a "brand Europe" to celebrate the EU's cultural diversity and anchored in European values such as the respect for human rights, freedom and democracy. The report by Dutch draftswoman, MEP Marietje Schaake (Liberals and Democrats), was adopted by 26 votes in favour, with none against and no abstentions. The Parliament plenary is expected to vote on the report on 9 May.