02 jun 2000
The European Union and its cultural diversity
Meike Berns Int 305 City-University
The European Union and its cultural diversity
I would like to discuss that a sense of community which is necessary in business and in daily life is not achieved yet. Even with opening the borders between the member states and establishing a common currency the work is not done yet.
The question often asked is how to achieve a sense of community in the different member states with their different cultures. Is it even possible? How can the goal of feeling as an European be achieved? Should people give up their national pride? To make Europe „one unit“ is it necessary to have one language?
Europe is more than just a home market and Euro. Culture plays a big role in getting a communal spirit and self-confidence for the Europeans. Cultural and educational policy is the member states‘ responsibility, but not only: Also the community has the mission to support culture (article 151 Treaty on European Union).
This paper will explore the efforts made by the member states to meet the challenges arising within our socities: safeguarding European culture, affirming our common identity whilst recognizing our differences, promoting the study of our languages, history, civilization: the best antidots to backsliding into nationalism and intolerance.
Culture is defined as behaviour peculiar to Homo sapiens, together with material objects used as an integral part of this behaviour. Thus, culture includes languages, ideas, beliefs, customs, codes, institution, tools, techniques, works of art, rituals, and ceremonies, among other elements ( Encyclopedia Britannica, 2000).
The European Union consists of 15 Member States at the moment and negotiates with 13 new accession candidates. Europe’s population therefore will increase to 550 million people. The high number of Member States shows the varieties and differences as well as cultural problems that go along with this process. Although Europe shares a common history each country has developed its own cultural identity over centuries. The ongoing integration will show if Europe converges on the cultural as well as on the economic and political level. The European Union tries to improve the better understanding and acceptance of cultural diversities by several programs and initiatives towards a cultural convergence. The paper will focus on 1)the European Cultural Convention and 2) the Culture 2000 program which are part of this process. And will also show some 3) public opinions concerning the cultural diversity in Europe.
1) The European Cultural Convention was signed in 1954 and is the framework for the Council of Europe’s activity in a) education, b) culture, c) cultural heritage. Programs developed within the framework of the Convention are directed not only towards the Member States, but also towards all those actively involved, in partnership with the Council of Europe, in the development of education and culture.
a) Education lays a foundation stone for the formation of opinions. Therefore it is very important to teach young people how to establish greater mutual understanding and confidence. An urgent need is to strengthen programs to eliminate prejudice in the teaching of history by emphasizing positive mutual influences by countries, religions and ideas in the historical development of Europe. Young people should learn how to form their own opinion by looking at every site of an subject. The Council has set up projects that show how to prepare them for study, training, work, mobility, leisure and everyday living in a multicultural Europe. A network of national agencies to promote school links and exchanges was established. It is based on the concept of cultural exchange, and linguistic considerations play a minor role. Participants can study in another country for three up to nine month and stay with a host family.
To keep a vital role that individual citizens have to play in combating extremism and assuring democratic stability and social cohesion a project called „Education for Democratic Citizenship“ came to life. It seeks to find ways of inspiring idividuals to take up this challenge in the context of rapidly evolving political structures.
The Convention brings also the legal framework for the fair recognition of qualifications, degrees or diplomas in the European Union up to date. The target groups are students, parents, employers universities, and other higher education institutions. The application procedure in another Member State’s university for example is often very time-consuming, and not transparent enough. On those problems the Council of Europe is focusing on.
b)To promote awareness of Europe’s multi-faceted cultural identity and to develop it several cultural policies and activities has been set up. The European program of national cultural policy reviews encourages the pooling of experience, in order to draw practical lessons from the success or failure of national and regional measures and to identify comparable problems. The goal is to achieve a sense of team work and community.
-Interregional artistic co-operation initiatives are supported by the Council of Europe and a co-operation between European artistic and cultural networks as a forum for discussing Europe’s major cultural policy issues are promoted.
-A fund called Eumirages with a total of almost 150 million French francs to support co-production, distribution and exhibition of European films and documentaries was set up in 1988.
-A project was set up to promote and spread European values and culture through the written word, both in electronic and printed form. Because the European Ministers recognised the important role of the Media to protect and to disseminate cultural values.
-Through high-quality tourism Europeans should be reminded by Cultural Routes of their common cultural identity. Cultural Routes cover the following themes: Silk and Textiles, the Baroque era, rural habitats, the monastic influence, the Vikings, the Hanseatic League, etc.
c) The extraordinary diversity of the cultural roots is what distinguishes the European culture from other cultures. The Greek philosophy, the Roman establishments, the Jewish-Christian traditions- the Law, the Gospel- are contradictory, with creative tension or unresolvable conflicts. And there are Germanic roots and the influence of the Arabic world, the Slav. One could define the European culture as a culture were many definitions are possible and every single one would be correct. Sonett, sonata, oil painting and whatever more were European and not national creations.
The European culture has never been a only in exchange meeting juxtaposition of national cultures. Fact is that Europe has a common cultural heritage that works as a cultural roof for all developed differences in each Member State over the centuries. In this respect heritage is an irreplaceable means of increasing European conscious and of spreading knowledge about European culture.
A campaign called „Europe, a common heritage“ is being carried out in cooperation with the Council of Europe in 1999. To encourage cultural exchange amongst Europeans and to allow them to discover their cultural diversity and cultural wealth is the purpose of this campaign. It includes international photography competitions about the heritage, and the European heritage days etc.
2) The „Culture 2000 Program“ is so to speak the European Cultural Conventions successor. The „Culture 2000 Program“ is a financial instrument with a total budget of 167 million Euro and is established for five years. It grants support for cultural co-operation projects in all artistic and cultural sectors like literature, heritage, arts etc. The aim is the same, to bring Europeans on a cultural level closer together. Europeans should learn to combine the cultural diversity with a common cultural heritage. Creativity and mobility , inter-cultural dialogue and knowledge of the history of the peoples of Europe are very important points. For social integration and socio-economic development culture has a tremendous influence.
3) Overview over some public opinions
Among the Member States opinions vary about the efforts made by the European Union. Some argue that it is not possible to bring so many different cultures together. Like the French. They are scared of the growing uniformity and standardisation of the world in order to preserve the diversity of cultural output.
Others argue that it is necessary for becoming one unit to get in touch with the Member States cultural values. Like Lord Yehudi Menuhin ( violonist, conductor, and humanitarian), who sent a letter to Heads of State of the European Union in 1997. He claims that one element is missing in the general concept of the European Union: the representation of the rich diversity of European Cultures. His accusation is that there is no constant touch between the different cultures, that would lead to a renunciation on the part of any given culture, of sovereign national and territorial ambitions. He is „engaged in establishing a representation of cultures at the level of a greater Europe. The representatives (...) would have to enjoy the confidence and trust of their group, but they would also have to speak with the aim of reaching agreement“(www.napf.org). From his point of view an „Assembly of Cultures can play a decisive role in the emergence of a genuine European conscience, which would constitute the best defense of its people and of the community“. The European Union has not taken the responsibility of guarding Europeans‘ Culture, to protect a human being, his heritage, his rights, and his creativity.
Another point of view is to achieve a European Union beyond the economic level, without becoming victims of their own success, European nations have to step back from the idea of nation and start working toward a plural and cultural citizenship. The European Unions‘ major investment should go to designing pluralism in citizenship as the crossroads of globalization and localization.
For quite a substential proportion of Europeans, the image of a better society is „the world as it used to be“ with 68% agreeing that they want a world in which people live by traditional values. Just about half of the European population feels that we’d better off if we returned to our traditional ways of doing things (51%). However, a longing for traditionalism does not necessarily mean that everything should go back to the way it used to be: only 25% of Europeans agree that a husband’s job is to earn the money and a wife’s job is to look after the home. (www.europa.eu.int)
There is widespread agreement among the European public that it is important for people to understand how the EU works. Equally, the large majority of Europeans feels that it is important that people have access to information about the EU with more than 9 in 10 Europeans feeling that better information on decisions taken by the EU should be available to its citizens. There is a need for information with less than 4 in 10 Europeans feeling well informed about the EU. (www.europa.eu.int)
From my point of view there is still a lot work to be done until the people in the European Union feel like one unit. A sense of community can only be achieved if we learn to be open minded. It is very important that we do not see our own culture as the non plus ultra. We should start to look beyond our borders to learn and to experience what other cultures have to offer.
Especially the youth should be encouraged to find out about, be aware of, and recognise the intrinsic value of cultural diversity. Young people should be enabled to view the European Union as an integral part of their historical, political, cultural and social environment and to become aware of the importance of democracy in the organisation of society and thus encourage them to play an active part in its institutions. An awareness of dangers relating to exclusion, includingracism and xenophobia, through socio-educational measures for and by young people should be promoted.
Education takes an important role in this effort. I wish we would learn more about our common heritage. In school history is always shown as a history of that particular nation. The past is not only a German, French or Italian past. It is the past of all European countries. And we should all learn from the mistakes or experiences the other European country made. The first and second World War off course teared the people apart from each other. Nationalism arised very strongly. Every one should be able to be a little nationalistic but I think to much proud of the own country makes one blind for the tresures of other nations and values people have. For the future I think it is necessary that a common educational policy for the Member States enable young or not-so-young people to make experiences in foreign countries. To live in another culture, not only to read or see something about it in the media, is the only way to understand the values and the tradition. The fair recognition of degrees, diplomas and qualification is the foundation for academic mobility of the people. Better information, more transparent, coherent and reliable recognition procedures are key factors that are missing in the EU. Of course there is a progress on the educational level but it seems like the EU does not see the importance of a better cooperation and understanding between the Member States. One currency and one single European market seems to be more important.
But how can it be expected that people make business together without understanding each other? I do not talk about the language barriers. Every culture has its own way to deal with business. Increasingly, professionals in cross-cultural management, who seek to develop transcultural competence, sense the need to go beyond the defence of their own model. It is legitimate to have a mental model. We are all creatures of our culture. The problem is to learn, to go beyond our own model, without being afraid that our long-held certainties will collapse. The need to win over others to our point of view, to prove the inferiority of their way of thinking, reveals our own insecurities and doubts about the strength of our identity. Genuine self-awareness accepts that we follow a particular mental cultural program and that members of other cultures have different programs. We may find out more about ourselves by exploring those differences. The first step for this is to know that there are differences. Of course there is no universal instruction how to deal with other cultures but as soon as we realize that there is not only one way (our own way) half of the work towards an understanding between each other would be done.
We can not deny that there exist language barriers between the Member States and I think it is necessary to agree on one language that the Europeans should be able to speak. Each native language should not be forgotten. On the contrary, it is the responsibility of each Member State to promote their own language. Because it is an important element of culture. It just happened because of the american impact on Europe that english became the number one business language. And I think every country within the EU should promote teaching their citizen to speak at least a little english. And again this is a question of nationalism.
In France for example, I think one can say that they are very nationalistic, my experience was that most of them did not understand or even did not want to understand english. At the end they will suffer from their „ignorance“ because the will not be competitive on the global market.
Even in Germany a lot of people did not learn english. Although we had the advantage, regarding the language, that the american influence was and still is bigger than in other Member States because of the occupying forces after the Second World War.
Tourism shows that a lot of people think that their own culture is „superior“. If we take a look at the phenomenom Palma de Mallorca. Sarcastics say that this island is the 16th federal state of Germany. Palma is the number one vacation destination for Germans because they do not have to abstain from German beer or Schnitzel. They behave like they are at home and not in another country where they actually have to fit in the habits and rules of the inhabitants. Why do they travel to another country to make the same things they do at home? It is so much more interesting to get to know the different culture and traditions.
For example the French or Spanish people do not travel that much. One reason was their financial situation in the past because the exchange rate was quite high. Another reason is that they have the their own coasts and beaches where they can have vacation at. Most of the French people who live in the inner country have a vacation-apartment at the coast of their own country. That leads to an inexperience of other traditions, values, structures of society, ideas and languages.
The polls (see number 3) shows that keeping traditions is a high value for Europeans. I think one reason for this importance of going the traditional way for most of the Europeans is the decreasing population growth. There are more „older“ people than young people. And they are more cautious or even scared of the unknown. They are not open minded enough to face the change of time.
As one can see from the polls there is a lack of information. How can people develop a sense of community if they do not even know enough about the EU? I think this is also a problem of age. But this time the other way around. Nowadays young people are not so interested in political issues anymore. Although the number of sources to get informations increased with the internet and the media.
My point of view is that the EU should concentrate more, regarding spreading of informations, on the young people . Because they are the European citizens of tomorrow.
In conclusion, I can say that it is extremely important to encourage the Europeans to take part on the political and cultural development of the European Union. And that the European institution should show more responsibility regarding cultural and educational policy.
„European Business“ Richard Welford & Kate Prescott (1996)
„Riding the waves of culture“ Fons Trompenaars & Charles Hampden-Turner (1997)
„Das EG-Buch“ Rolf Grix & Wilhelm Knöll (1993)
Word Count: 3042