Monday, January 18, 2010

European Construction and Cultural Diversity

What we usually refer to as the process of European integration, initiated in the years following World War II, is undoubtedly marked by the idea of cultural diversity. If we look at what is now the European Union, these differences can easily be found, for example, through linguistic diversity: 23 official and working languages, and a score of other formally recognized regional and minority languages. The coexistence of all these languages in the geographic space of the European Union is no more than a fact, but the recognition of 23 of these languages as official and working languages is not the only evidence of the value that the EU attaches to cultural diversity; the policies and programs to protect and promote the cultural heritage of Europe (literature, theater, visual arts, architecture, crafts, film, broadcasting, etc..) are many and these objectives have been, since 1992, set out in the Treaty of the European Union. Initiatives such as the European Capital of Culture, for example, are visible and popular ways of showing the pride that the European Union has in its cultural diversity; the Culture programme, with 400 million Euros for the period 2007-2013, is another. If we attempt to list the initiatives and programs through which the European Union exercises its competences so as to protect and promote cultural diversity, we should not fail to mention the European Union action in the field of audiovisual and media, neither the important component of cultural diversity included in the European Union programs of international cooperation and development aid, of which the Memorandum of Understanding between the European Commission and the CPLP is a good example. Cultural diversity and its role in European integration have always been celebrated by the European Movement and its members and partners through the commemoration of Europe Day (May 9), but the highest point of this celebration was, most likely, the declaration of 2008 as the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue, under the motto "United in Diversity".

From the standpoint of political science, diversity is, without any doubt, one of the most interesting aspects of the European Union as a political, supranational institution. If we compare the European Union with the other global players, this is one difference that becomes immediately evident. In fact, both the United States of America or the Russian Federation, or even the emerging powers such as China and India, followed a different path that, in many respects, was marked by cultural homogenization and, for example, the adoption (or imposition) of a single language and the promotion (or invention) of a supposedly common identity and / or unity. This is indeed an issue that often arises in the European debate and one reason that is even more often invoked to explain the limitations or the inability of the European Union to speak at one voice and act in a more coherent way in the global context. I think, however, that this is not true and I would argue, moreover, that the respect and appreciation of its own diversity is an integral part of the European uniqueness and a sine qua non condition of its success. I will try to explain why.

The European Union was created, as stated above, after World War II, with the aim of ensuring peace, stability and prosperity in Europe. Those who had resisted totalitarianism, united under the European Movement, were determined to put an end to national antagonisms and create conditions for lasting peace. Inspired by the idea of Victor Hugo, who envisioned the "United States of Europe”, a handful of courageous statesmen laid the foundations for a new political organization based on common interests, the rule of law and the principle of equality of nations. Throughout its history, the European Union had, of course, to adapt its mission and its actions, but its fundamental principles were kept and even strengthened around this precarious balance between collective construction and individual identity, between European integration and national interests, between unity and diversity. The fall of the Berlin Wall, which twentieth anniversary has been recently celebrated, the reunification of Germany and the collapse of the Soviet empire reinforced that idea, and the enlargements of 2004 and 2007 confirmed the process of a construction based on the rejection of totalitarianism and authoritarianism, and on the respect and appreciation for cultural diversity. The further enlargements to Turkey and the Western Balkan countries – that I wish for a near future - will, hopefully, further and definitely strengthen this identity matrix.

The European Union was created to achieve the political goal of peace, but its economic fundamentals - the economic and social solidarity - were the ones granting it dynamism and success. European countries have long understood that to ensure their economic growth and be able to compete globally with other major economies, they have to work together. In this sense, the creation of the Single Market was decisive for the success of European companies; however, the European Union's success is mainly due to the fact that wide free competition has been counterbalanced by a policy of solidarity which has an European dimension too. Modern societies are increasingly complex and, despite the level of quality of life has been steadily improving, inequalities have been growing too; what makes the EU unique in the global context is precisely the fact that its member states act together to reduce them.

Nearly 60 years of European integration have clearly demonstrated that the EU is more than the sum of its parts; but the care and attention given to each of the parties has proved crucial to the success of the whole. To act together and speak at one voice is an asset; but to listen to each and every one of the voices strengthens the action of the whole. Unity is certainly a strength; but the European Union, by making diversity one of its core values, proves that integration does not necessarily have to be done at the expense of the different lifestyles, traditions and cultures of its peoples.

In conclusion, the thesis that I try to defend in this text is that the slogan "Unity in Diversity" is not just a nice idea that one can easily adhere to from the theoretical point of view; it is also a line of action with positive practical results and that, in my view, explains the success of the European integration process and should continue to be the basis for its future successes. Market forces and / or the unilateral action of one or another may indeed give good results in the short term; in the long-term, however, a shared vision of humankind and a social model supported by the vast majority of the citizens will certainly make the difference between a good intention and a successful project. I therefore believe that the higher we go in the appreciation of the cultural diversity in Europe, the more we will contribute to its unity and successful construction. It is also my belief that this principle applies to all levels, including the national, local and at all others in which human endeavors and the collective construction of reality should take into account that differences can never justify inequalities.

(this article was originally written in Portuguese for the upcoming issue of Juvenilia, the Portuguese National Youth Council magazine)

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