Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. November 2003
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Preservation of Cultural Diversity - A Utopia?
Cultural Diversity in the Context of Security and Stability

Christa Prets (Member of the European Parliament)


The loss of cultural diversity increases the risk of political and economic instability similar to the way that the loss of biological diversity threatens the ecological system. The necessity of the preservation of cultural diversity is to be seen above all in the context of security and conflicts, and thus it becomes a global concern. In order to integrate cultural diversity into the much-discussed policy of lasting development, I have taken the initiative for the European Parliament in preparing a catalogue of measures for the national and European cultural policy, in order to guarantee the preservation and in a further step the promotion of cultural diversity.

1. Requirement - Horizontal Extension

Culture and cultural diversity should become a central concern of the European project of integration, whereby a horizontal extension into all policy areas of the European Union as well as of the national governments is a basic prerequisite. Article 151 of the European Community Agreement on culture, introduced in 1992 in the Maastricht Agreement, must by all means be better implemented on the European level, that is, above all, collaboration with third countries, promotion of exchange and dialogue and attention to cultural aspects in all activities of the Community.

2. Requirement - Formal Definition

It is difficult and also risky to define cultural diversity. Culture is subject to a dynamic process, which should not be halted by a rigid definition. However, in order to be able to take a first step to protect and promote cultural diversity, a formal definition is necessary for cultural policy, cultural assets and services and not least for cultural diversity, above all in connection with the accord in international organizations such as the World Trade Organization or for a future international legal instrument of cultural diversity.

3. Challenge - Networking

In consideration of global modernization and economization (developing a global economy) and of the resulting liberalizing tendencies, a networking of local, regional and national interest groups is becoming more and more important. Within the last three years countless declarations of the most disparate organizations and networks have been made on cultural diversity. In the year 2000 the European Council passed the "Declaration of the Committee of Ministers on Cultural Diversity," bringing to recognition a fundamentally European intercultural standpoint on this question. This declaration endorses the principle of lasting development, the importance of artistic freedom and stresses the education and further development of professionals as well as of the broadcasting system in a context of cultural diversity. Finally it determines that cultural and audiovisual measures, which promote and preserve cultural diversity, are a necessary supplement to the political measures on behalf of business.

In 2001 UNESCO accepted the "General Declaration on Cultural Diversity." It plays an important role in the deliberations about cultural diversity, in strengthening sensitizing efforts and in providing technical support for developing countries, while at the same time promoting the use of collaboration for development. Furthermore 250 regions from 28 countries - recognized as the Regional Assembly - passed a resolution on cultural diversity and GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services) in October 2002 in Brixen. The European deciding bodies - the European Council, UNESCO and the Regional Assembly - emphasize along with many other represented interests that cultural goods and cultural services "as bearers of identities, values, and meaning cannot be regarded as mere commodities or consumer goods."

A strengthened collaboration of the above-named international organizations with the European Parliament, the European Commission and the national governments is intended to emphasize the specific character of culture, above all within the framework of the World Trade Organization.

4. Proclamation-Vigilance at the WTO Negotiations

The World Trade Organization (WTO), founded in 1995, carries out within the framework of a single structure, among other things, trade negotiations about services (GATS). It supports the goal of liberalizing world trade and develops initiatives for the attainment of an ambitious and well-balanced result.

A resolute position of the European Union in the multilateral trade negotiations in 1993, however, led to a rejection of liberalization in the audiovisual sector and enabled the EU to continue its national and European policies in the area of broadcasting quotas and financial support.

The European Union, as an independent entity, can conduct negotiations with its trade partners. According to Article 133 (EGV), the Commission watches over this procedure, and indeed on the basis of specific mandates, which the Counsel gave to it in 1999: "The Union will during the next WTO negotiations as in the Uruguay round bear the responsibility for insuring that the Community and its member states continue to have the possibility of maintaining and further developing their cultural and audiovisual policies for the preservation of their cultural diversity."

This mandate, which was passed by the member countries, should guarantee that also during the Doha-round up to 2005 the EU will not make any proposals or raise questions about the liberalizing of cultural goods and services and audiovisual media. In the areas of health, education and audiovisual media no proposals for liberalization were made, and the European Parliament (EP) ordered the Commission to maintain this position throughout the entire GATS negotiations.

Our requirement must be that the member states have to be so flexible legally that they can meet all of the necessary requirements in the area of cultural and audiovisual policy, in order to preserve and promote cultural diversity.

Using New Zealand as an example, I would like to point out a danger caused by proposals in the audiovisual sector. In the Uruguay-round New Zealand offered a proposal to abolish quantitative limits in the audiovisual sector. In 2001 the New Zealand government wanted to introduce quotas again for local radio and television broadcasts, with the response of the US trade authority for GATS, that the reintroduction of quotas would violate in the extreme the existing GATS agreement. Later studies have shown, that the share of local broadcasts in relation to total programming time in New Zealand has dropped sharply since 1995 and that New Zealand, compared to 10 other countries with respect to the offering of regional programming, stands in last place.

International Legal Instrument

The demonstrated dangers of WTO negotiations caused principally Canada, together with France, Germany, Greece, Mexico, Monaco, Marocco and Senegal, to take the initiative for an international legal instrument for cultural diversity. The agenda of the UNESCO General Conference (9-14 October 2003) will discuss the possibility of the technical and legal aspects and the practicality of such an instrument. An instrument requires a vote, and a short time for negotiation will be necessary in view of the Doha-round concluding in 2005 and the continuing negotiations about liberalization. As an instrument for consciousness building and as a possible counter position to the WTO, the convention on cultural diversity would serve an important function. The transition from a pure declaration to a legally binding convention is necessary here.

UNESCO has received the legitimation for such an international legal instrument, however, the basic prerequisite for success is first the consensus of almost 190 states. Here the upholders of culture should network, so that the explosiveness of the theme is carried over the European borders. The European commission supports an international legal instrument; at the end of November the European Parliament will vote in a Plenary Session on my report on the security and preservation of cultural diversity. The European Ministers of Culture have already commented positively about it in Thessaloniki in May 2003.

Such an instrument should have as a global goal the preservation and promotion of cultural diversity, should contribute to the cultural dialogue and promote mutual understanding and mutual respect.


The preservation of the cultural heritage as a common heritage of humanity is a concern of our civilian society and the preservation and promotion of cultural diversity a guarantee for peace, security, stability and development. Today and also in the future there will always be different languages and cultural backgrounds in the member states of the European Union. This cultural diversity, which can be considered as one of the unique values of the European Union, is becoming recognized and respected everywhere, but it should be promoted even more strongly by regional, national and international means. The expenditure of 0.1% of EU funds for culture and audiovisual materials is too little. Annual cuts in the national budgets in the fields of culture and the arts are to be condemned. The topic of cultural diversity should find entrance into every area of politics. The preservation of diversity must not be restricted. Insuring diversity is always simultaneously a means of promoting it. And last but not least: in order to recognize cultural diversity as a principle of lasting development, every individual must have access to culture and also be able to participate in it. Only then can measures and actions for its reception and promotion become effective. Then the Utopia will become a reality.

© Christa Prets (Member of the European Parliament)

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For quotation purposes:
Christa Prets (Member of the European Parliament): Preservation of Cultural Diversity - A Utopia? In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 15/2003.

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