Ref. :  000015899
Date :  2004-12-09
Language :  English
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Our work in the field of culture remains fundamental - Ministerial conference: Defining the way ahead for European cultural policy

Wroclaw, Poland, 9-10 December 2004

Speech by Terry Davis, Council of Europe Secretary General

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me recall the wisdom of the people who founded the Council of Europe, who recognised in the Statute of our Organisation that if the Council of Europe was going to achieve a greater unity between its members, it had to encourage co-operation not only in economic, social and legal matters but also in culture as well. Their wish was realised through the European Cultural Convention which provided the framework not only for the Council of Europe's work in culture but also in education, heritage, youth and sport.

Culture is at the heart of relations between people and between nations, the foundation of individual and collective identities, the cement that keeps society together. It can not be taken lightly or for granted. As we know from the history of Europe, if co-operation is only based on political interests, rather than on a strong and genuine desire for mutual understanding and peaceful collaboration, it is short-lived.

The dynamic interaction between politics and culture provides the rationale for an intergovernmental organisation such as the Council of Europe to deal with cultural matters in a systematic, comprehensive and forward-looking way.

Fifty years down the road, the time has come for a stocktaking of our achievements under the Convention and a reflection on challenges lying ahead. Let me at this point thank warmly the Polish authorities for providing us with these excellent conditions for work and with so many opportunities to enjoy their culture, our culture, over these two days.

Conscious of its role as the only pan-European organisation for cultural co-operation, the Council of Europe has invested relatively little in this co-operation in financial terms but invested enormously in terms of energy, innovation and commitment.

The Convention's aim has not been to improve Europe's cultural reputation and even less to attempt to illustrate some form of superiority; rather it has been to help governments provide the conditions which are necessary to enable cultural life to flourish.

The vision of the Cultural Convention was one of an undivided Europe. Drawn up in the early stages of the Cold War, the Convention was from the outset open to all European States willing to adhere to it. It became a sort of passage through the Iron Curtain, a stepping-stone for full membership in the Council of Europe. The Convention projected a vision of a Europe strong with the diversity of its cultures and its common heritage; a Europe of understanding and dialogue between peoples.

Along with democracy and human rights, these values have been pillars of our organisation and remain an essential basis for the identity of a united Europe. Indeed, I could not imagine that the legal and institutional safeguards of democracy and human rights in our member states could be as solid as they are today if they were not embedded in a cultural foundation of tolerance, freedom, equality and respect for human dignity.

We have worked for 50 years to build this cultural foundation.

We have fostered creativity, cultural freedom and diversity; we have created standards and mechanisms for policy coordination in order to ensure equal access for all to education and culture. We have worked with youth in order to bring up new generations in the spirit of common values and active citizenship. We have treated sport not only as a source of physical and psychological well-being but also as a means of promoting tolerance, fairness and social cohesion. We have developed the concept of life-long learning. We have promoted language teaching and unbiased history teaching as essential dimensions of intercultural education.

The list is long. I hope to be forgiven for not mentioning all of the accomplishments which the Cultural Convention has nourished over the years. I should emphasise, however, that they have all had as a common denominator the concept of cultural democracy and the right to cultural expression, which are closely linked to the Council of Europe's evolving principles of human rights. Without our work over the past 50 years, the concepts of cultural rights, educational rights, and linguistic rights would never have gained such prominence across Europe.

The European Cultural Convention has not only been a source of inspiration for the building of Europe's social and cultural capital. It has also been an extraordinary driving force of innovation in thought and practice.

For instance, over the years, our engagement in heritage has led us well beyond the conservation of old stones into a broader concept of heritage. Another example is Eurimages, our unique fund for film co-production which stimulates the continued development of a European film industry and engenders works of outstanding value in one of the most popular of the arts.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today we face a new resurgence of the tension between diversity and identity. Cultural and religious identity is sometimes used as a justification of inter-ethnic tension, racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic acts and even armed conflict within Europe. Cultural rhetoric fuels terrorism and violence.

It is crucial to realise that as the Council of Europe mobilises to meet these challenges, our work in the field of culture remains fundamental. Building inclusive, stable, and peaceful societies based on shared values means that these values need to be reborn in the minds and hearts of every generation.

The Council of Europe, together with its many partners, exists to help member states in the development of comprehensive policies for managing cultural diversity and fostering intercultural and inter-religious dialogue through art and through the sharing of heritage. We are developing educational models which transmit the values of the Council of Europe and strengthen citizenship and social cohesion. We are creating new ways of passing on to the young generations the value of democratic citizenship and motivating them to continue the struggle against discrimination, racism and intolerance.

The European Cultural Convention is a formidable instrument for co-operation with Europe's neighbours, particularly those to the South of the Mediterranean. The Convention offers to neighbouring countries a framework for partnership based on common principles, as well as the knowledge, experience and practical instruments developed over five decades of pan-European co-operation.

For this partnership to become a reality, however, the Convention needs to be opened up to non-European countries. We need, therefore, to explore ways and means to make this possible through an appropriate instrument, such as a new protocol to the Convention. Such an instrument would provide a basis for a focused dialogue and joint action in fields such as cultural exchange and teamwork which could in turn lead not only to conflict prevention but also a richer life.

I believe that the celebration of the 50th anniversary must be the occasion for creating a new impetus in our cultural co-operation. In the past decade, we have concentrated on building the institutional and legal framework for democracy and the rule of law throughout Europe.

Now we must find a new balance among the core areas of action. We must recognise that it is essential for democratic institutions to be embedded in a democratic culture, or they will be unsustainable and short-lived. We must also provide the resources which are necessary for investment in human capital and the building of stable and inclusive multi-cultural democratic societies.

Today we are not only celebrating the achievement of the past but also, and more importantly, we are beginning a debate on the future, which will culminate in, but not end with the Third Council of Europe Summit of Heads of State and Government next May.

We must clarify the links between our cultural mission of the Council of Europe and the other core elements of our mandate: democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Culture is a concept similar to freedom and democracy: difficult to define with any precision. But we know what they are when they are missing. And just as freedom and democracy can not be simply handed over like a fairy godmother's gift, but must be created and maintained by daily efforts and vigilance, culture too relies on the joint efforts of organisations and individuals, each making their contributions to form a harmonious living whole called civilization.

Thank you very much.

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