Official Journal of the European Union

C 112/57

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘the social dimension of culture’

(2004/C 112/17)

On 20 November 2003 the European Parliament decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under the last paragraph of Article 262 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the social dimension of culture.

The Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 3 March 2004. The rapporteur was Mr Le Scornet.

At its 407th plenary session (meeting of 31 March), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 98 votes to zero, with four abstentions.

1.   Introduction


The European Parliament and the European Economic and Social Committee have decided to make the question of the social dimension of culture a common theme, as they consider that culture and social development are closely interrelated and that this relationship will be increasingly important for European integration policy.


In a 1999 opinion (1) the Committee stated that: ‘If we take the very broad definition of culture as a code of values that apply to the members of a society, then culture also shapes the areas in which civil society operates’. The Committee considers that culture – understood as a process and a common form of thinking and acting – assigns key functions to education and the participation of society. The draft European Constitution is after all based on common values, objectives, fundamental rights and a new understanding of democratic action. These components together make up the foundation of a European concept of culture. The European concept of culture also embraces strong social elements such as solidarity, social cohesion, measures to combat marginalisation and discrimination, as well as social integration. On the basis of this approach, the Committee asked the European Convention that in future it be consulted on culture. All of this confers a special responsibility in this field on the European Parliament, as the democratic representative body of the people of Europe and the European Economic and Social Committee, as the institutional representative of civil society organisations.


The European Parliament has rightly insisted on the obligation to establish a common cultural basis and a European civil area (2). This is all the more urgent since the predominance of the national dimension of culture tends to re-emerge whenever complexity increases, and since enlargement, as well as increasing complexity, brings into the Union people with very different national histories, traditions and cultures in the European context.


Owing to time pressure, the Committee initially concentrates in this opinion on three key areas.

2.   What kind of European society do we want? Towards a new ‘culture’ of interactions between economic, social and environmental practices:


In this context the social dimension of culture is a decisive factor for building a European identity both within the Union and externally. The attraction of Europe is not confined to the scale and strength of the largest internal market in the world, the level of GDP or the strength of the euro. Just as attractive are the originality and relevance of a social and cultural model which, on the strength of a shared heritage of values, has learned and continues to learn to cope peacefully with its cultural diversity and its social and political contradictions.


The current changes in society, like the effects of globalisation, the ageing of the population, the growing importance of information technology, the principle of gender equality which is gradually becoming established and other radical socio-economic changes pose enormous challenges for policy in cultural, social and symbolic terms. Our societies can no longer afford not to recognise and involve all their actors and all their environments. As the European Year of the Disabled showed, and the EESC's opinions and initiatives on the subject have argued, they will be judged on the place and role they give to the most disadvantaged and marginalised members of society.


Should not the traditional paradigms of hierarchical command and ‘assisted dependence’ (cf. the various forms of welfare state) give way now to a paradigm involving the active participation of each person, i.e. ‘empowerment’ of all the economic, social, family and cultural actors?


Is not this active participation the sine qua non condition for a fulfilled, creative economic and social life? Must it not therefore be also an ethical and economic imperative? Respect and fulfilment for oneself and others, the primacy of the principle of cooperation, are the shared characteristics of contemporary European humanism and of the global competitiveness of this integrated area.


Economic, social and environmental practices are constantly creating culture. The identification and assessment of changes to the main cultural paradigms which occur in these practices would make it possible to give an operational value to the concept of ‘social dimension of culture’.


Ultimately this means that the relations between, and responsibilities of, state, market and civil society will have to be jointly rethought and redefined.

3.   The effects of changes in the world of work on the structure of society and cultural values


This opinion cannot seriously attempt to explore the considerable changes in progress in these areas. It merely seeks to show that such an exploration would certainly help to provide a better explanation of the concept of ‘knowledge society’ which is a key, dynamic aspect of European culture as defined by the Lisbon Process.


The universal tendency to intellectualise all the aspects of work, including the ‘work’ of consumption, and the increased role within them of relational, stylistic and creative criteria, have crystallised remarkably in Europe. This phenomenon is undoubtedly at the heart of the differentials of competitiveness, attractiveness, mutual respect and entrepreneurship which Europe maintains and can develop in relation to the other geo-cultural regions of the planet.


Moreover, in a society undergoing such profound change, the professions concerned with integration and mediation are in the forefront. The immense stresses experienced by these professions go beyond the material and objective difficulties encountered in this type of work. They question all the points of reference for action based on the joint function of solidarity and social control in our society. It is necessary to decipher the transformation of symbolic area which constituted the scope and vocational identity of these professions.


In such a society, one can no longer separate or prioritise the social dimension of culture and the cultural approach to the social sphere. That is why the economic, the social and the political can no longer be dissociated from artistic and scientific work and activity. There need be no exploitation, and the importance of artistic and scientific creation itself is considerably strengthened. This makes it necessary, in particular, to start considering the new forms taken by the cultural economy (solidarity-based economy, funding sources based on mutual benefit organisations).

4.   A new culture of democracy


Social and cultural policies are not just sectoral policies but a ‘culture’ of political interaction as a whole. Cultural democracy, understood as ‘cultural security’, ‘cultural reliability’ and ‘social and cultural governance’ needs to be promoted. It is necessary now to initiate an open debate on the creation of cultural rights/freedoms/responsibilities.


The main paradigms of cultural and social democracy need to be rethought and developed:

the educational paradigm (particularly by developing the supply of education and of continuing education throughout life)

the paradigm of making the most of resources (by emphasising creative and communicational interpretations of culture and of the social sphere)

the paradigm of mediation (with the creation of new ‘cultural standards’, particularly derived from situations of social exclusion: this would be a bonus in terms of good sense and humanity).


The wide range of issues involved in the task of devising a true social and cultural democracy deserves to be thoroughly discussed with the social movements, the cultural networks and the social partners – not just between institutions. To that end, one of the major challenges to be met is undoubtedly that of establishing a cooperation ethic among all the partners concerned.

5.   Recommendations

This first, and inevitably rough-and-ready, reflection on the social dimension of culture leads the EESC to make a number of proposals:

5.1   The cultural role of the European Economic and Social Committee


As a number of national economic and social councils or equivalent institutions have already done, the EESC wishes to affirm its cultural role more clearly than it has done up to now – all the more so since, as it stated in an earlier opinion, ‘the development of civil society is a cultural process’ (3). That is why the EESC intends to initiate an active dialogue on this subject with the national ESCs and all the EU institutions (Parliament, Council, Commission and Committee of the Regions), and to be a forum for debates with civil society organisations on cultural development in a pluralist, dynamic and innovative sense – a true forum in the service of sustainable development and of the creative cultural industries (4).

5.2   The gradual creation of a European observatory of cultural cooperation


The EESC proposes to continue consideration, with the Commission and the European Parliament, of the European Parliament's proposal to set up a European observatory of cultural cooperation (5).


The EESC is not unaware of the limited conclusions of the feasibility study on this parliamentary proposal carried out at the Commission's request. While it fully agrees with these conclusions, the Committee still does not regard them as sufficient, in that they aim simply to support the networks and bodies which are active at present and review their funding, create a web gateway and develop the collection of cultural statistics (6).


That is why the EESC proposes that an own-initiative opinion could rigorously define the objectives of a European observatory of cultural cooperation, which the EESC, like the EP, wishes to see set up. It could also check that this would indeed be an inter-institutional and cross-frontier ‘network’, with regional and national hubs, and achieving an effect of synergy to make the most of all current players – public, social-economy and private – and all experiments (including those in the past which may be half forgotten). It should not be yet another central institution. This dynamic cooperation would encourage a non-defensive development of the concept of subsidiarity in terms of European cultural policy. It would encourage Europeans' capacity to involve themselves directly in the creation of this common cultural area, and thus to recognise themselves in it. In this context, the EESC could offer to act as a secretariat and centre for collection and use of an authentic bank of data and knowledge, just as it could play the role of a motor by proposing specific action plans.


From this viewpoint, account must be taken of the considerable work of identification carried out by the Bilbao European Agency and the Dublin Foundation. They detect and develop ‘best practice’ and observe the cultural changes relating to working conditions, jobs, welfare and social cohesion. They reveal the assets which are ‘already there’ and which could contribute to this European cultural observatory within a broad vision of culture.


There are also many networks based on the premise of culture as a social link, particularly in populations which are marginalised or in the process of being marginalised (working-class districts, declining industrial regions, abandoned rural areas). (The study carried out for the Commission has already identified 65 such networks.) The EESC, which has organised hearings where some of these expressed their views, agrees with them on the need to bring them out of their isolation, and to provide them with the resources to continue and develop, which are still lacking. That is why, as well as a laboratory role making it possible to disseminate tried and tested knowledge and know-how and transfer it from one field to another, the observatory of cultural cooperation should have an evaluation role.


This task entails, first and foremost, ensuring that sufficient account is taken of the cultural dimension in Community policies and, more specifically, that it should become a means of giving greater substance to the Culture 2000 and MEDIA Plus programmes when they are renewed, so that they reflect the radically new situation arising from enlargement and encompass new areas of activity. Such an observatory could possibly draw up its own annual report.

5.3   Continuous linkage and appropriate joint projects between the European Parliament and the European Economic and Social Committee in the cultural sphere


In the cultural field, it should be possible to establish and publicise close cooperation between the two institutions which represent the European peoples in their very different ways, and to develop joint procedures and events.


An annual joint meeting devoted to affirming a ‘Europe of culture’ could help to assess the developments which will lead the Union from a community of rights to a community of values – to set an annual objective of promoting at least one truly shared cultural value.


Continuing the already rich experience of the annual European capitals of culture, the first joint meeting of the two institutions could set itself the objective of establishing an open competition for proposals leading every two, three or four years (why not with the frequency of the Olympics) to an initiative involving each European country. Each of these countries would itself open up European culture to the world by involving in the European initiative at least one partner from a different cultural region.


In addition, the two institutions could help to set up a European ‘task force’ to encourage cultural and artistic exchange in areas of conflict – both for conflict prevention and as an element of post-conflict reconstruction.

Brussels, 31 March 2004

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee


(1)  EESC opinion of 23.9.1999 on The role and contribution of civil society organisations in the building of Europe – OJ C 329 of 17.11.1999

(2)  Ruffolo Report – EP A5 – 0281/2001

(3)  EESC opinion of 23.9.1999 on The role and contribution of civil society organisations in the building of Europe – (Rapporteur: Ms Anne-Marie Sigmund) OJ C 329 of 17.11.1999

(4)  EESC opinion of 28.1.2004 on the cultural industries in Europe (CESE 102/2004) (Rapporteur: Mr Rodriguez Garcia-Caro)

(5)  Ruffolo Report – EP A5 – 0281/2001

(6)  A feasibility study concerning the creation of a European observatory of Cultural Co-operation (cf. Final Report to the European Commission – 18 August 2003) http://europa.eu.int/comm/culture/eac/sources_info/pdf-word/final_report_aout_2003.pdf