Culture has been part and parcel of the European integration process since the very beginning of the activities of the European institutions. For economic integration to be successful, national cultural barriers, largely aimed at shielding domestic cultures from foreign competition, had to be taken down. This became both a cause and a catalyst for the pursuit of an 'implicit' cultural agenda on behalf of the European institutions through the endorsement of a paradigm of openness to other cultural markets and cultures. Engagement with culture progressively diversified, in line with the evolution of the EU competences, through the formulation of an EU cultural policy proper, the development of a wide range of policies with cultural ramifications and the incorporation of a cultural dimension in EU action undertaken to ensure respect for fundamental rights. Against this background, cultural diversity was viewed both as creating pressures and as an asset to exploit in the context of establishing and regulating a common cultural market. Also, it was seen as an opportunity for European societies in terms of offering room for participative and creative encounters, promoting solidarity and respect for common values and engaging in a broader process of identity-building.
During the past few years, the 'economy of culture' paradigm has become particularly influential, affecting the tenets of the EU's cultural policy. In a period of economic recession, with many governments retrenching cultural spending, the economic imperative resonated well with the proliferation of EU strategies for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. It also matched the aspirations of those member states enjoying an entrepreneurial dimension in their cultural policies, and perhaps comforted those wary of the more ambitious goals of the EU cultural policy concerned with European citizenship and identity formation. The strengthened economic dimension of the EU's cultural policy mirrors the preponderance of the economic rationale currently defining most of the EU's internal policies. One could argue in fact that culture now forms part of a broader set of EU policies, cultural and noncultural, whose underlying objectives are essentially of a socio-economic and industrial nature. Such treatment of culture has not been tempered by the EU's increased commitment to fundamental rights. In fact, fundamental rights, despite some positive developments particularly with respect to the fight against discrimination, offer little room, in view of the demarcation of the EU competences, for actions that focus on citizens' access to and participation in culture, and the democratisa- tion of processes of cultural production and distribution. In the field of EU external relations, in turn, the economic dimension in culture- related action has equally been strong but economic goals have been intertwined with cultural distinctiveness objectives, largely aimed at protecting the national/regional cultural features of the member states, and also combined with arguments about the potential of culture in terms of contributing to democratic governance. Whether any concrete measures will be taken in this latter direction remains to be seen.
Perhaps this is as much the EU can do in the cultural field, given the delimitation of its powers, and the existing political, institutional and economic context within which its activities develop. For the attainment of more demanding cultural goals in Europe, concerning, for instance, the promotion of equity and fairness in cultural participation, one might need to turn to other supranational organisations, besides emphasising targeted action at the national and subnational levels. Lately, the Council of Europe has been particularly vocal as regards the importance of culture for sustaining democratic processes, and has formulated a wide range of policies for encouraging intercultural dialogue; strengthening participation in cultural life as a means of fostering active citizenship and social cohesion; and promoting the democratic management of cultural diversity, with due consideration given to the undercurrents of the creative economy, the cultural industries and biodiversity (Council of Europe, 2013b). Relevant policies could help inspire national policies but also inform EU cultural action.
1. See UNESCO (2005), in particular Articles 1, 2 and 7.