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The place of culture
To substantiate the European unification project
As seen in the developments of the debt crisis in the euro area, EU cohesion is put at risk also by cultural differences between Member States. A society’s predisposition to incur in indebtedness without considering the consequences, the mentality of accepting and granting favours to the detriment of the community, the tendency to evade taxes and be involved in corruption are widespread in different ways at national level according to the respective historical developments and the different mindsets that ensued and spread with these developments. Reiterated focus on controversies and polemical debate in the media has engrained prejudice thereby spreading antagonism, attribution of responsibilities and mutual affronts in the public opinion severely straining solidarity between peoples, thus putting at risk consensus, and in the last analysis, also democracy.
It is to be appreciated that European governors haven’t let themselves be impressed by these trends. Is isn’t wrong to say that as far EU countries’ leaderships are concerned, the culture of reconciliation and understanding, indispensable in the lives of those populations that jointly originated the European Union, has prevailed. The surge in populist and nationalistic movements across Member States, calling for “renationalization”, i.e. the recovery of national politics on the basis of cultural difference is a strong sign of alarm. Despite the many efforts, European unification remains a fragile project.
The statement, ascribed to Jean Monnet, claiming that European integration were reinitiated from scrap, the first steps would be in the direction of political culture is thus plausible. Although the previously mentioned malpractices cannot be understood as a normal part of culture in the noblest definition of term, it is also true that the frequency with which such malpractices spread in society shows that there is a certain idea of the State and of the law that belong to a specific tradition and culture. But Jean Monnet, who sixty years ago inspired Robert Schumann in his innovative proposal of using the European Coal and Steel Community as the foundation of the unification process, has never made this statement, as we are told by French cultural philosopher Helene Ahrweiler, true author of this quotation, mistakenly repeated for decades, who in vain sought to clarify the misunderstanding. The media distorted the philosopher’s original phrase – “Instead of Monnet I would have started with culture!” – in the claim that Jean Monnet himself was eventually persuaded of it. Jean Monnet was well aware of the importance of using coal and steel as the point of departure for the great endeavour which, a few years before the end of the Second World War would have guaranteed peace and reconciliation between neighbours leading them to long-lasting cooperation. In that situation, the coal and steel industry put the States could become the spark of armed conflicts. It was therefore necessary to strip States from the capacity, thus the possibility, of waging war against each other via the supranational integration of industrial politics in that field. Along with this reason, related to the policy for peace, an important role was also played by creating the common interest to transform coal and steel policies in a Community issue. The joint commitment for the accomplishment of the common project created cohesion that enabled the successful launch of other concrete integration projects in the course of the following decades, from common agrarian policy to the single currency.
The idea of a common cultural policy as the foundation of the European unification project is based on a misunderstanding: to exchange the much hoped for result of European unification with the adoption of the process leading to it. How could the manifold artistic representation and cultural performances be coordinated by a common regulation? How could literary, artistic and musical activities, be regulated within legislation valid for the entire EU area? By coincidence, the entire area of culture is subjected to the principle of subsidiarity, understood as the responsibility and competence of States, regions, and municipalities. On the other hand, culture plays a crucial role in common growth, inscribed within the framework of the community of nations and States, prompting the consensus needed by a given community, thus promoting mutual understanding. But for the effectiveness and the efforts at cultural level, especially as regards the areas of education and learning, a political-institutional framework is needed, which cannot be created by culture.
20/04/2012 - Thomas Jansen - Sir Europe (Germany)