Politics of European culture

1996 I wrote my master thesis on “European cultural policy after Maastricht” (in German).  I asked why and for what the European Union could get involved in cultural policies. The first answer I found was the functional necessity to regulate the market of cultural goods and services, a reason that remains as pertinent as ever. While in the 1990s the debate was about the single market, the TV without borders directive and the GATT (later: WTO) negotiations, we discuss today about cross-border copyright issues and systems of producers`rights protection, including those with social welfare objectives for artists and writers, and – of course – TTIP. The second aspect, quite 1990s, was the idea to foster more European awareness, exchange and ultimately some form of European identity through “action” (programmaticly named, such as Youth for Europe). These youth and education programmes (now under a single Erasmus label), the Europeanisation of research as well as of cultural activities, European festivals, art fairs and of the European cities of culture blossomed. While those developments have increased European mobility and exchange – not least facilitated by a liberalised and open transport and telecommunication market – it remains to be seen now how much the last 20 years have increased a common European awareness in times of crisis (was bleibt?).  I also looked at the external aspects of European cultural action and the interaction with external action of the European Union; these days eventually getting more attention – although possibly more as a symptom of the multiple crises of the EU´s foreign policy than of a genuine resolve to engage in culture and cultural dialogue.

Today, the democratic European cultural fabric as it could emerge during the second half and late 20th century is becoming ever more fragile. In some places it has already been torn and in other it is hardly keeping together, so thread-bare it has become. The carrefour and expression of European culture is the European city. European town and cities, however, have become weaker in the last decades while becoming ever more diverse and fragmented. Municipalities and cities, associations and initiatives, theatres and museums, independent cultural agents are living through difficult and contradictory developments brought by a dangerous mix: political ignorance and neglect, austerity and de-institutionalisation,  hyper commercialisation of the public space, festivalisation of cultural work, precarisation of many and excessive incomes for few artists and producers, more flexible yet less local distribution channels made possible by digitalisation, the emergence of new information monopolies, less opportunities for cultural education paired with more cultural diversity brought by immigration, continuous destruction of cultural heritage, including by violence and war – to list just some of these developments. Yet, it is is in locally and urban based culture that citizenship can develop and flourish. If Europe is to succeed, we need to look back at the initial question of why and for what the European Union should or should not get involved in cultural policies.




Jahrbuch der Europäischen Integration 2017

Another year, another year book of European integration. Since 1980 Wolfgang Wessels and Werner Weidenfeld are editing this indispensable chronicle and analysis of events and developments which is published by the Institut für Europäische Politik (IEP). Since 2014 I have been a contributor: in 2017 again for the section on EU enlargement with chapters on Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.


From Rome to Trieste

Ljubljana, 28 March 2017 – the Western Balkans countries and their integration have returned to the agenda while the EU is discussing its own future development. Could the discussion about enlargement contribute to the reflection on new initiatives to reinvigorate the EU as they were discussed in Rome on 25 March 2017? How resilient are the Western Balkans countries and societies to respond to challenges posed from the outside? What are the ambitions of the Western Balkans summit to be held in Trieste on 12 July 2017? It was good to convene an European group of experts in Ljubljana and was happy to co-host and chair a dynamic discussion at the Atrij ZRC SAZU on Tuesday, 28 March.


Rights, not tribes

The Financial Times published on 18 March 2017 an article by David Goodhart with the title “How I left my London tribe”. It prompted me to write  my first letter to the FT, which to my surprise was published on 27 March 2017.

“Sir, David Goodhart writes that “for the first time in my life I have had the confidence and experience to work things out for myself” (“How I left my London tribe”, Life & Arts, March 18). This must have happened when he was well into his fifties. What it shows is he was ill-equipped by his upbringing to develop an autonomous voice and his own thoughts. While a regrettable development for him personally, what he has “worked out” are the shallow, superficial resentments of an ageing privileged baby-boomer. It is neither “anywhere” nor “somewhere”. It is simply the attempt to negate a moral and legal order that has been built against the backdrop of the horrors of the second world war, colonialism and discrimination against women. In his life’s “bubble” those struggles might have been only the subject of dinner party conversations. Across Europe, including the UK, the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Cultural Convention and the European Social Charter, as well as the jurisdiction of the EU, have brought essential rights and equality for millions of citizens where they live. The “Brexit/Trump” backlash was not prompted by an excess of equality under the law but rather by the destruction of the very foundations of modern democracy: access to equal life chances and a better distribution of wealth. The risks for democracy were the result of laissez-faire capitalism and uncontrolled market forces rather than of a liberal legal and social order.”


When Tony Judt`s “Postwar: A history of Europe since 1945” was published in autumn 2005 I was an official of the aspiring European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) in Bosnia and Herzegovina. While we noted the failure, in two referenda in the Netherlands and France, of the Constitutional Treaty we remained optimistic that the postwar development, the emergence and consolidation of a European way of combining human rights and democracy with economic, social and cultural prosperity, so aptly described by Judt, would prevail. Few would have imagined the state in which the EU and Europe as a whole would find themselves only ten years later. With the hindsight of 2017, Judt´s book can be considered the history of a period that ended when the book came out.

The current unravelling of what we believed were European postwar and post-cold war certainties affects as a result more than the political and legal sphere. Postwar architecture, public space and cultural production and distribution are equally unravelling. From being a living ubiquitous reality in Europe´s social, political, legal and cultural fabric and incontournable buildings in our cities, “postwar” has become heritage that requires care and protection – within a few years only.

Possibly only few years are left to save the most important aspects: fundamental and human rights, political freedom and pluralism, the autonomy of culture, open and regulated markets in public spaces, animal welfare and the protection of the environment, to name but a few … concretely (#sosbrutalism) buildings and spaces are rapidly disappearing.

A humble and modest contribution has become the Initiative Brutalismus im Rheinland. Since summer 2016 I have helped to raise awareness about postwar heritage in the Rhineland (as part of a global movement with Facebook groups of almost 50 000 members). On 14 March 2017 we will present the initiative in Cologne with a public event at the Haus der Architektur Köln and to anchor our work firmly in the heritage and conservation tradition of our region.


From Vienna to Paris

25-26 April 2016 will be dedicated to the Western Balkans in Vienna. The process started in Berlin in 2014, framed and enriched in Vienna in 2015, is regaining momentum – at least in analysis, reflection and discussion – in the run-up to the  Western Balkans conference in Paris on 4 July 2016. To advance our work on the Reflection Forum “The Western Balkans in the European Union: new perspectives on integration”, which will be held in Paris on 30 & 31 May 2016, I will meet with colleagues of the Centre Franco-Autrichien (CFA) and many other partners. Meetings are happening in the wake of the events in Macedonia, the elections in Serbia and Austria – the days in Vienna are promising to be interesting.