"In uno plures" (?) EU cultural policy and the governance of Europe.

Author:Shore, Cris

Cultural Policy and European Integration in Anthropological Perspective (1)

Culture has an important intrinsic value to all people in Europe, is an essential element of European integration and contributes to the affirmation and vitality of the European model of society and to the Community's influence on the international scene.

European Parliament 2000, 1

Although its goal is to develop a feeling of belonging to a shared culture, the EU is also keen to preserve the specific aspects of Europe's many cultures, e.g. minority languages.

CEC 2002, 5

As the two quotes cited above indicate, the theme of Europe's "culture" (or "cultures") has become an issue of growing concern for the European Union (EU). Yet there is something curiously contradictory in the way the concept of culture is conceived and deployed in EU official discourses, a confusion that is perhaps symptomatic of a more profound philosophical ambiguity over the status and definition of the Union and its people(s). In short, is the European Union (or, to use its earlier incarnation, the European Community), one people or many? And what is, or should be, the relationship between peoplehood and culture in the EU's emerging system of supranational governance? Whereas the European Parliament's statement speaks of "the European model of society" and the "intrinsic value of culture" to "all people in Europe," a statement that belies a consensual idea of culture and society and conspicuously avoids the use of plural nouns, the European Commission's statement reminds us of the "many cultures" that the EU is "keen to preserve" and which constitute Europe's essential cultural unity. This contrast between Europe conceived as a unified and singular cultural entity, and Europe conceived as a space of diversity, an amalgamation of many cultures, and by implication, of many peoples and interests, also underlies some of the key political divisions in the way European integration is imagined. As I shall argue below, none of the EU's stock metaphors of "unity in diversity," "cultural mosaics," or "family of cultures" adequately address this fundamental contradiction between the foundational idea of Europe as an "ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe," understood as a plurality, and the idea of integration as a process leading to a "European people."

If the quotes above are indicative of an increasing official emphasis on the role of "culture" in the construction of the new Europe, they also epitomise the important link between policy, identity-construction, and power or, to use terminology more typical of EU parlance, between "social cohesion," "European construction" and "governance." The drawing together of these themes around the notion of culture is of recent origin. According to modern myth, it was Jean Monnet, the celebrated French statesman and founding father of the European Communities, who first remarked, when looking back on a lifetime's work dedicated to creating a united Europe, that "if we were to start all over again, we would start with culture." In fact, Monnet never said anything of the kind, and none of the EU founding fathers had a vision of culture as a binding force for European unity. Like most myths, the significance of this story lies less in its historical accuracy than in its telling, and in the fact that it is still frequently cited by European Union policy elites to support the argument for increased European-level intervention in the field of culture. Monnet's oft-cited apocryphal quote is important for two reasons. First, because it is indicative of the growing political weight that European policy professionals, since the 1970s, have come to attach to the idea of "culture" as a key ingredient, indeed, a catalyst, in the integration process. Secondly, because it highlights a key point of this article: namely that the development of EU cultural policy cannot be properly understood outside of the context of the EU's wider political project of "European Construction" and its transition from a loosely structured free trade area into a fledgling, albeit ill-defined, supranational state. (2) This has precipitated a progressively more interventionist and--notwithstanding the advance of neoliberalism or the repeated claims about respecting the principle of "subsidiarity"--a typically top-down and dirigiste approach by EU elites to the problem of European integration. What is also significant about the EU's "cultural turn" is that it is often seen, erroneously in my view, as marking a major departure from the traditional "neofunctionalist" approach to integration that prevailed during the 1960s and 70s. That approach, sometimes symbolised as the "Monnet method," was based on American social science assumptions that regional integration in Europe would follow almost automatically from the steady cumulative effects of small incremental steps towards harmonisation and regulation in relatively uncontroversial areas of national policy-making that, on the surface, pose little challenge to strategic national interests or sovereignty. The idea behind this plan was that the integration process would generate its own political dynamic--i.e. a "spillover" effect--whereby integration in one sector or policy field would generate momentum for integration in others (cf. Haas 1958; Lindberg 1963). (3)

How then should we make anthropological sense of the evolution of EU cultural policy, and what can the micro-history of this small field of policy tell us about deeper changes in the way the integration process is conceptualised by European Union officials and political leaders? Given the absence of references to "culture" in any of the founding treaties, we might also ask, what exactly is EU cultural policy for, and what political functions does it serve? For anthropologists the very idea of a "cultural policy" raises epistemological dilemmas. Ever since the so-called "linguistic turn" and reflexivity of the 1980s, and arguably well before that, we have had to come to terms with the idea of contingency and the knowledge that our notions of "culture" are themselves abstractions or cultural constructions, and that ethnography--like nationalist historiography--is itself a technology for creating and reifying culture(s) (Wagner 1975; Clifford and Marcus 1986). In short, we invent "culture" in the very act of writing about it. This does not mean we should abandon the word culture as a vacuous fiction; rather, it should alert us to the fact that definitions of "culture" (English, Anglo-Saxon, Ruritanian, European or whatever) are a matter of ideology and politics, and to ask in each instance whose definition of culture is this?

The idea of "cultural policy" adds a further layer of complexity to this epistemological dilemma for by definition "policy" implies a course of action that is expedient, rational and goal-oriented; an objectified programme for penetrating and acting upon the social. (4) This begs the question, what is "culture" that it can be transformed into an object of expediency and policy-making? As I hope to illustrate, one of the key consequences of turning the hitherto rather nebulous and undefined domain of European culture into a target of EU intervention is to enlarge the scope of EU governance and control. To put it in more theoretical terms, the invention and expansion of EU-wide policies towards "culture" is in itself a measure of the development of a new type of rationality of government; or what we might call, to adapt a term from Foucault (1991), "EU governmentality." In this sense, the study of EU cultural policy should be treated as part of what Foucault terms the "diagnostics of power."

To date, there has been little detailed analysis of EU action in the field of culture. This is partly because EU cultural policy, in the strict legal sense, is a relatively recent phenomenon: until the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, culture was not a recognised area of European Community competence. However, it also reflects the lack of status political scientists and EU analysts have traditionally accorded to culture and the narrow definitions of culture they have traditionally employed. (5) What I want to do here is examine the development of EU cultural policy from an historical and anthropological perspective by addressing three main questions. First, why has "culture"--a subject that prior to the 1980s was deemed of only marginal and esoteric interest--emerged as such a central concern for EU policy makers? Second, what are the implications of the EU's increasing intervention in the cultural domain for the future of the EU as a political and social system? Third, if the aim of aim of EU policy elites in the Parliament, the Commission, and the Council of Ministers is, as they have often claimed, to promote the identity and external image of the Community through symbolic initiatives, "cultural action," and the creation of a "European culture area," what notions of "culture" underlie these strategies?

One of the main propositions I want to advance is that despite substantial changes in the content, breadth, and direction of EU cultural policy since the 1980s, the underlying aim and rationale that drives that policy--the imperatives of European construction--remain largely unchanged. Three overriding themes in particular have shaped, and continue to shape, the development EU cultural policy. The first is the EU's search for legitimacy and popular consent. The second, related to this, is its concern with the question of European identity and the belief among many in the European Commission and Parliament that cultural policy can be used as an instrument for forging a common sense of heritage, history, and belonging--the goal being to turn member-state nationals into a "body politic," or European "demos." The third theme concerns the wider question of EU governance and the rationality of policy in a broader sense. As anthropologists have...

To continue reading