Ref. :  000024845
Date :  2006-09-29
Language :  English
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Speech by the head of development and international affairs of the French Ministry of Culture and Communication at the Lyons interregional conference

Author :  Benoît Paumier

The word “dynamic”, chosen by the organisers as the theme for this conference, very accurately describes the process involved in developing the concept of cultural diversity. The following paper aims to explore several points:

- firstly, a broad consensus exists in France on the necessity of inscribing the principle of cultural diversity in international law; UNESCO’s undeniable success last year in mobilising the support of almost every country in the world, however, was less easy to achieve. Therefore, a brief overview of past developments offers a useful means of demonstrating how and why this dynamic was able to function, and the lessons that can be learned and applied in the future.

- secondly, the European Union has played a major role in this dynamic. Without European support, this result would probably not have been achieved; and the adoption of this convention has already had an impact on the decision-making processes within the European Union in culture-related matters, even though the convention is still in the process of being ratified.

- thirdly, far from running out of steam, this dynamic is set to impact in numerous ways on the processes of international negotiation and cooperation within the fields of culture and audiovisual production, as well as on domestic cultural policies, since one of the main features of the cultural diversity dynamic is the examination of cultural policies both within a local and national context, and internationally.

I – The development process: two major features

- firstly, an issue that used to be focused essentially on commercial negotiations within the film industry has been extended to a complete range of cultural activities and to the assertion of cultural identities, in particular in the countries of the south. In other words, there has been a movement away from cultural exception toward cultural diversity, a process that includes the former, while at the same time clarifying its purpose and broadening its scope;

- secondly, although this dynamic has played a major role in this process, it has been carried along by a powerful undercurrent.

At the United Nations summit on sustainable development in Johannesburg in August 2002, France was the only government, along with Quebec, to put forward the idea of a legally binding international convention to counterbalance the pressure exerted on culture by international trade agreements and the WTO, and to request that this convention be drawn up by UNESCO. Even those countries in favour of cultural diversity doubted the ability of UNESCO to manage such a process, and UNESCO itself had other priorities at the time. At every stage, whether before the 32nd session of the UNESCO General Conference in October 2003, which passed a motion in favour of negotiating an international convention on cultural diversity, or before the numerous interim meetings leading up to the October 2005 session, during which the convention was adopted, the expectations we had were exceeded by the results.

Several major developments drive this dynamic:

- firstly, the support provided by non-trading organizations and in particular the activities of and the partnerships formed with professional cultural organizations belonging in France to the “French coalition for cultural diversity”, a body that brings together 53 organizations, including copyright agencies, trade unions and professional organizations operating within a complete range of cultural activities, from plastic artists and publishers to filmmakers and multimedia authors; this model has been adopted in 36 countries. Although a broad consensus exists on this issue in France, in many other countries these professionals have played an important role in raising the awareness of their individual governments in a way that very closely reflects the activities of the French government.

- secondly, the growing influence of culture ministries in many countries; the strong and sustained interministerial solidarity that exists in France between the departments of culture, foreign affairs and overseas trade remains an exception to the international rule. A more common scenario involved a ministry of culture that was generally in favour of the project, a ministry of overseas trade that was often opposed, a stance based their wider international economic and national interests, and a ministry of foreign affairs that acted as a sort of arbitrator; the growing influence enjoyed by culture ministries was based on support from networks such as the RIPC and ASEM, and French, Spanish and Portuguese-speaking organizations, and of course on meetings of European culture ministers, which offered a means of enhancing their weight within their own governments and developing their role within their own countries;

Two major sources of support emerge from this analysis: non-trade organizations and ministries of culture. It’s worth noting, in view of the work of the Lyon conference, the appearance of a third area based on regional activities, particularly in Europe, which will potentially add another dimension to the cause of cultural diversity and complete the “para-diplomatic” process to which Louise Beaudoin referred yesterday.

- finally, the ultimate driving force behind this dynamic is the priority given to defining a common European position and the decisive role played by the European Union, which deserves particular emphasis; it’s the first time in the history of UNESCO that the European Union has been authorized to act in its own capacity and in the name of its member states. It was also agreed that the Commissioner for Culture should be given responsibility for supervising these negotiations on behalf of the Commission, rather than the Commissioner for Trade. The Europe of 25 spoke with one voice in favour of cultural diversity following a unanimous agreement finally reached during the Council of Culture Ministers in November 2004.
Although attention is more often focused on disagreements within the European Union, the consensus reached and the solidarity displayed throughout these negotiations were exemplary, including the session during which the convention was adopted, when Europe was represented by the British presidency. This process is proof, if any were needed, that the nations of Europe benefit from a set of common cultural values, and that a unified Europe has a message to share with the world.

This approach and the adoption of the convention, have already had a practical effect on certain EU policy decisions within the cultural sphere. Particular emphasis should be paid to the recent decision by the European Commission to recognise the legality of the French national system of support for the filmmaking industry, especially as regards competition rules, which demonstrate the consideration given to the provisions and dynamic of the convention at a European level. The convention also acts as a safeguard when considered within the context of the renegotiation of the “Television without Frontiers” directive and the future development of a new general regulatory framework governing television broadcasting activities within the European Union, or the consideration given to cultural matters in the allocation of structural funds, as referred to yesterday by Commissioner Danuta Hubner.
The communication process is, however, far from complete. Although the convention only needs to be ratified by 30 countries to enjoy legal status, it will only have a real impact if a much larger number of countries are in a position to ratify it.

France has completed its domestic ratification process. The bill authorising accession to the convention was passed unanimously by the National Assembly on 8 June, and by the Senate on 27 June 2006.

It is essential to rank among the first thirty countries to deposit the instruments of ratification in order to become a member of the intergovernmental committee to be established during the first conference of states that have adhered to the convention. This committee is expected to decide the direction and measures to take to implement the convention.
The compensation for EU members states, faced with this new role for the European Commission, will be the joint and simultaneous ratification of the convention by the EU and some of its member states. The President of the European Commission, Mr. Barroso, indicated, during current summit in Bucharest, that the European Community and those member states who are ready to go forward (without waiting for each member state to complete its own domestic arrangements) will deposit their instruments of ratification with UNESCO by the end of the year, or earlier if the threshold of thirty deposits is approached, thereby bringing the convention into force.

II – Dynamic initiated by the convention: numerous repercussions

1) the convention’s first purpose remains providing a legitimate basis for, and the strengthening of, cultural policies specific to each country, by recognising the distinctive nature of cultural and audiovisual goods and services in bilateral and multilateral negotiations.
With the same status as other international treaties (in particular those relating to the WTO) in the hierarchy of norms, the convention will provide a major safeguard against the activities of the WTO, which might have a harmful effect on cultural goods and services. It will foster the development of a system of legal precedence based on cultural, and not just commercial, considerations.

2) secondly, this convention has also been embraced by southern countries, which have overwhelmingly supported the measure. It has become the founding agreement of a commitment to preserve and strengthen the cultural identities of all countries.
The convention has a number of practical effects: it legitimises and provides a boost to all forms of cooperation between the north and the south, with an enhanced structuring aspect and founded on the principle that both sides contribute to these exchanges, which have evolved over a number of years. The convention provides, in particular, a basis for cooperation in areas related to cultural occupations, the building of professional networks, and the demands of creative professionals from the countries concerned for fair remuneration for their work and creations. It legitimises decentralised and, above all, interregional cooperation based on intercultural dialogue and the spirit of mutual exchange.

3) however, the third viewpoint established by the convention is that, in an increasingly globalised world where the spread of ideas, artistic movements and cultures is beginning to break down national borders, the principle of cultural diversity will not be limited to the organisation of the cultural and audiovisual relations between countries, thereby requiring us to explore the implementation of cultural policies within our own societies, at a local, regional, national and supranational level.

2008 will be the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue. This event is designed to promote multiculturalism in Europe with an emphasis on the positive effect of immigration. It will integrate cultural diversity into the creative process and provide deprived populations with a means to express themselves and establish a link between the EU’s structures for action and the consideration given to this diversity.

From a French perspective, the opening of the Cité Nationale de l’Histoire de l’Immigration in 2007 at the Palais de la Porte Dorée in Paris, will provide everyone living in France with an accessible and highly visible showcase of the contribution made to the national culture by successive waves of immigrants. However, the Cité is not designed to be an exclusively Paris-based institution; its influence can only be felt as part of a network of institutions, associations and initiatives, set up long before the Cité. It is important to emphasise the major commitment made to intercultural dialogue in the Rhône-Alpes region in this respect, with particular reference to the various meetings organized by TRACES, the regional forum for immigrant history, which promotes the contribution made by immigration to our common heritage and reveals the various paths taken by migrants. Another example is the Forum International des Caravanes Francophones in Lyon, which will take place for the first time this year and bring together artists from ten French-speaking countries.

4) the fourth viewpoint relates to artistic and cultural education as a necessary condition for cultural diversity. In short, even the best possible system of support for the film industry would be of little use if the next generation only watches works produced by the major film studios.

Artistic and cultural education form part of the “Common Knowledge Base” (decree of 11 July 2006), in application of the Law on the Future Direction of Schools, which includes the goal of “teaching students to distinguish between short-term consumer products and works of art”, and to confront what Jean Pierre Saez calls “the paralysis facing the culture industry”. It will be necessary, in the future, to define the nature of these common cultural points of reference.

Since the European dimension is equally important in this field, and can help us to overcome our internal differences, the French Ministry of Culture and Communication is organising, in association with the Ministry for National Education, a research symposium in January 2007 (from 10 to 12 January) devoted to assessing the impact of artistic and cultural education. Around fifty European and international researchers will meet at the Pompidou Centre to compare their findings, to take stock of the results achieved so far, and to offer an overview of current research.

5) finally, cultural diversity applied to regions, that is, the promotion of their unique features, is a major factor in a region’s appeal, and constitutes a significant asset in competing with other regions to attract investment and expertise, and to develop cultural tourism.

This convention, which will now have to be massively ratified, provides a new point of departure, and promises to have repercussions within a complete range of cultural activities.
The extremely wide range of contributions to this conference reveals the extent of the work required in the future. The organisers deserve our thanks for having raised this issue.

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