Philippe Kern / Feb 2017
As an idealist and humanist I naturally prefer the ambition of managing complexities and differences to make the most of diversity in the firm belief that as humans we are all citizens of the world. This makes me a natural proponent of the European project: the idea that by creating solidarity and connections through common institutions and policies, humans are capable of working towards a common goal. The bulk of European norms developed from the ratification of the Treaty of Rome 60 years ago envisaged a community of interest based on economic and trade solidarity. These norms are being put to the test now that Europe has to share its wealth with the developing world with some dire consequences for its weaker citizens that feel abandoned.
The EU, the largest trading bloc in the world, has been a driver of globalization contributing to more financial, technology and trade exchanges than any political alliance in the world. The liberal policies of the European Union have been shaped, in part, by representations from large industrial lobbies to the European Commission, as well as the influence of the majority of European governments leading to the development of inequality, industry delocalisation and the destruction of solidarity encouraging selfishness and greed.
The European project is now paying the price for its past focus: deregulation, industry self-regulation (banking sector), fiscal paradises, encouraging competition among its members for the lowest social common denominator, industrial standardization to the detriment of quality (notably in the food sector with regulation on food safety or labelling that favours large industries) competition policies focused on easing trade and lower prices often to the detriment of excellence and European local tastes. The liberal mantra combined with a dose of naivety has to a large extent disarmed Europe faced with emerging economies less reluctant to protect their industries and people. On the other hand, the EU liberal trade agenda has contributed to the sharing of wealth with developing economies, notably Asia, with formidable results in the fight against malnutrition and poverty. It helped enable the fall of the corrupted Soviet regime. These are very significant achievements.
I saw the European project transformed into the narrow vision of establishing a free market against the building of a more cohesive European society founded on solidarity and shared goals. I saw the EU becoming too often the champion of mainstream and mono-culture as opposed to building on its strengths: diversity and excellence. In 1999, by setting up KEA in Brussels I decided to make use of my legal, political and PR skills to serve my personal interest in life (art and culture) as well as my ideal (the European project).
Culture is truly marginalized in the EU set up. It is a subsidiary policy competence of the EU with limited funding (1.8 billion Euro over 5 years). However, some 80% of the regulations affecting artists and the culture sectors across Europe come from Brussels in the form of copyright, trade and competition rules. Numerous EU funded programmes are accessible to culture projects in heritage, innovation, external relations or regional policy. The culture sector is economically as large as the ICT sector with more jobs (8 Million across the EU).
Culture is at the forefront of technology and political changes; it influences these changes as much as it is impacted by them. Cultural policy is no longer only about entertaining the elites, enlightening the masses, attracting tourism and preserving the heritage. Today cultural investment touches on urban planning, economic growth, entrepreneurship, innovation, social cohesion, education and health. Culture is also the expression of freedom and individual emancipation against all forms of tyrannies. Today, cultural collaboration in the form of creative hubs, spearheads the sharing economy movement that potentially prefigures a post-capitalist society.
The challenge is to reconnect our European elite to the human, to the side of the brain that counterbalances rational and positive thinking with sentiment, passion, values and feelings. I am advocating the setting up of DG Empathy – headed by a professional artistic director or designer whose role would be to ensure that Europe speaks a language its citizens understand, a language that reconnects people with the purpose of the European project. This department would also be responsible for re-designing the organization with a view to implement a new work ethic, promote cohesion and inter-disciplinary collective actions. Civil servants have to be empowered again in their mission to promote the European project and to challenge the comfort zone of Member States. Successive administrative reforms have been successful in killing most of the motivation that historically fed the European spirit. In addition, institutions have to re-build relations with the Europhiles as well as the sceptics with a view to associate people and the grassroots to the building of Europe.
A Europe without culture is a Europe without identity, a cold construct, detached from its people, its particularities and its collective aspirations. Financial and economic integration will require intercultural mediation to achieve solidarity between nations, communities, people and economies. The capacity to understand each other’s cultures beyond clichés imposed by nation-building rhetoric will determine the success of Europe as a common destiny. Similarly, Europe’s capacity to promote local cultural expressions in the face of globalization will determine its capacity to remain creative and relevant as a civilization. What is Europe for? What is the meaning of the European project?