This paper makes a connection between two prevailing malaises in Europe: an absence of articulate and effective cultural actions and programs on the European level and the deeply in-rooted democratic shortage in the functioning of the EU institutions. There are not many encouraging signals that the ongoing European Convention will seriously improve either of these two shortcomings. And yet that is exactly what would need to happen if the European Union is to emerge from this complicated overhaul process as something more than a multi-state arrangement and a unified market, if EU is to proceed to shape itself as a community of peoples and citizens.
The European Union could not make sense as a projected, emerging community if it does not radiate a strong cultural dimension. This dimension must encompass the common cultural heritage and conflicting cultural memories of groups and individuals as much as common, again opposing and conflicting, aspirations for the future. More than anything else, culture could make Europe as a community palpable to the citizens, and give them a sense of being part of a political organization that is resting on some shared values and is being inspired, enriched, moved and provoked by cultural and creative processes, involving experts, artists and audiences from various corners of Europe. It is culture, sustained by European programs and actions, that could give to the citizens of Europe a sense of broad diversity that prevails in the continent but also assert the common concerns, aspirations and stances. In cultural production and distribution, sustained by Brussels, in addition to what the other levels of public authorities do, lies a chance to reduce the ignorance of European citizens about each other and combat their prejudices and stereotypes.
Furthermore, a community implies involvement of the citizens in its development and in the running of its institutions. At the moment, and perhaps even in the future, the setup, the competencies and the daily operations of the EU institutions are by and large determined by the will of the national governments and the bargaining among them to reach a consensus or in some cases a qualified majority. Big and small, Northern and Southern, old and new member states play this game with frequently switching loyalty. With 25 member states, the consensus in the EU will be possible only in most general and therefore most trivial situations. Qualified majority will have to prevail but also a stronger role of the Parliament in relation to the Commission and the Council would make the EU more credible as a system of representational democracy. In all the decision-making proceedings in the Commission, Council and the European Parliament the input of the citizens must be strengthened well beyond what at the present various Brussels-centered lobbies and so far marginalized bodies such as EcoSoc and Council or Regions can expect to achieve.
These two struggles need to be connected firmly: the plea for investment in EU as community via cultural programs and actions, and a fight for more democracy in the EU institutional functioning. The inherent difficulty of this combined struggle is that it is being resented and opposed by both the national governments and the Brussels bureaucracy.
The former stalls because they see culture as one of the few exclusive prerogatives left and because they perceive the EU as a wheeling-dealing process among themselves; the later use the unwillingness of the national governments to yield some ground as an excuse for their own passivity and minimalist engagement and strive to appease both the member states and the European Parliament by doing little and ignoring the needs and aspirations coming from the cultural field as too cumbersome and too complicated.
Despite rhetorical oaths to the notion of cultural diversity in many EU documents, cultural operators are often being reproached in Brussels that they speak with too many voices, with divergent interests and priorities and therefore supposedly weaken the desired impact on the decision makers. This reproach ignores the fact that culture is and needs to remain divergent and pluralist if it is to play a vital role in the European civil society. Efforts to streamline, sort out, reduce and unify the aspirations, needs, priorities of European cultural realms would be stifling. Furthermore, in their expectations from the EU programs and actions cultural operators have no great problems sorting out their main priorities:
- Support for the information flow, training, group and individual mobility, reflection and debate about the place of culture in Europe, against the challenge of migration and the pressures of economic globalization and the onslaught of cultural industries; investment in networks as the basic infrastructure of international cultural cooperation.
- Support for complex, medium-term, multilateral collaborative projects and their European dissemination so as to enhance the intercultural competence of the professionals and of the audiences.
- Support for the cultural cooperation with the immediate neighbors of the European Union, their cultures, creators and audiences, as the best way to engage in confidence-building, culture of peace and trust rather than in confrontation, exclusion and political, cultural and economic domination.
This fairly simple cultural-political agenda for European Union could be only strengthened and re-asserted if coupled with the political and civic engagement to democratize the European Union. While initially, the decision of the EU Council to overhaul the institutional setup and the competences of the Union through a convention process provoked some hopes that democratization will be taken seriously on the board, the proceedings of the Convention so far give little reason to believe that the form of the deliberation chosen has allowed for a substantial democratic breakthrough. In the mid-winter weeks before the Convention comes with the first draft of the Constitutional Treaty and in the months to follow before the Convention's completion of its work in the summer, the civic and cultural forces in Europe have a last serious chance to articulate and voice their common interest. For cultural operators, especially, this is an opportunity to earn the good will of the citizens for culture in general and to overcome the risk of accusations for elitism or Brussels- centered parasitism, by stressing that the culture-democracy axis presents a tool for all citizens to oppose the Diktat, coming either from a detached Brussels bureaucracy or from the corporate conglomerates.