British Council, Cervantes Institute, Goethe Institute, French Institute: and why not an European Institute?

, by Sophie Mascaret, Translated by Quentin Boulanger

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British Council, Cervantes Institute, Goethe Institute, French Institute: and why not an European Institute?
Art exhibition with European and national flags Credit © European Union, 2011

British Council, Cervantes Institute, Goethe Institute, French Institute: and why not an European Institute?

On the 12th of July 2010 the French Parliament voted the bill about the State’s external action creating a new industrial and commercial public establishment. The aim of this reform: increase the visibility of the French’s cultural action abroad that was until now dispatched between the embassies’ cultural services, the cultural centres, the cultural institutes, … by creating a single interlocutor.

Spain has the Cervantes Institutes, the UK British Councils, Germany Goethe Institutes. France wanted its Victor Hugo Institute, it will eventually be the French Institute.

The rationalization effort of this reform is hardly subject to discussions. But we can nonetheless wonder about the lack of ambition and of real will of rationalization in the international cultural policy of EU member States. Why stopping in the middle of the way? Why wouldn’t we have the ambition to create a European Institute?

Correct the lack of visibility of the EU abroad

Even though it is represented abroad by the delegations of the European Commission, the EU suffers form a visibility deficit.

Within those delegations, “working groups” gathering the representatives from the embassies concerned by the topic (culture, university, language) organize themselves. If the initiative is good, it can still be criticized because of the limits of its scope and its shortfalls in term of the representation of the EU member states. Indeed, not all country of the EU have the means to develop a diplomatic network as “universal” as the French one.

On the other side, the Delegation often struggles to initiate and coordinate common actions because of the solely stare-centred vision of the representatives. If the financial participation of one is higher than the one of another, he will make sure to take important advantages of it under the threat to withdraw from the project. Let’s just say that the community vision of the Delegation has huge difficulty to impose itself on the field.

At the same time, the system of the European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC) is a partnership between national public organisations having competencies in the field of the development of cultural and cooperation projects. It is for example about working together to organize cultural manifestations.

Those partnerships can’t be neglected since they allow for example the creation of thematic weeks about Europe (European movies festival…). But the weakness of this system is that it doesn’t take into account the very various means of the EU member Sates and doesn’t encourage in any way a real solidarity between them.

Once more interstate logic takes over the community one.

Mutualising the means to increase the projects’ efficiency

Beyond the differences of means between member States there is the problem of the ongoing decrease of financial support from the public to cultural institutions. Researches of external funding and partnerships are highly recommended in order to keep the network alive.

The political choice to keep the universality of the French network abroad has a cost and we can wonder whether we really have the means of our ambitions. The creation of a European Institute could allow not having to do this cornelian choice and to offer this universality to all its European partners.

The functioning of the European Institutes (staff, buildings…) could be funded by the European budget. It would be up to each State, then, to invest on the creation of targeted cultural events.

The EU would thus intervene through the European Institute as a logistic support for cultural projects developed by member States. This would trigger huge scale economies, which could thus be reinvested directly in the projects.

This organization would allow States like France on the one side to keep its so cherished principle of universality and allow all the European partners to benefit from it one the other side. Let us not neglect the function of cultural diplomacy in the set up of economical and political partnerships in the countries where it is active.

In a word: a compromise guaranteeing certain equity between member States and leaving them a complete freedom in the definition of their cultural policy.

Being part of the building of an European identity

But the prime interest that would arise from the creation of these European Institutes is not financial. This reform would contribute to the increasing of the visibility and credibility of a European “living together”.

It is thanks to the identification of the existence of an European project and identity by our partners abroad that the appropriation of this identity by Europeans will be able to develop.

Because after all, doesn’t the building and assimilation of an identity or membership come also by its recognition on the international stage? Don’t we feel really European when an Australian, a Chinese or a Brazilian speaks about our Union? Isn’t this burst of content felt at this moment a witness of our feeling of belonging to a community? Don’t we assume the EU more when we are outside the EU or in touch with the “EU’s outside”? Some kind of recoil is necessary to become conscious of the obvious.

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