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Deputy Prime Minister,
Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Culture has been a visible part of the work of the Council of Europe ever since its founding in 1949. The European Cultural Convention of 1954 has been ratified by 50 countries and it is one of the Council of Europe’s fundamental agreements that are binding under international law. The Convention illustrates how important culture is on the continent of Europe. It raises our awareness of our cultural diversity and common cultural heritage. It encourages us to promote the sharing of our cultures, languages and history with one another. This cultural, linguistic and historical diversity is part of what makes Europe strong.
Since the Council of Europe’s founding, both Europe and the world have changed significantly. In 1990 we were able to put the era of partition behind us and unite Europe as a community of values based on human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The quest for freedom and self determination played a crucial role in overcoming ideological and geographical borders.
This common history is also visible in the 30th exhibition of the Council of Europe, “The Desire for Freedom”, which opened in Berlin last October.Since 1952, the exhibition series has followed an ambitious goal: to use art to remind Europe’s citizens of our common roots and our common cultural heritage, thus helping to overcome the division of Europe. The works of art in the exhibition, which has been on display in Milan since February, reflects this trajectory. I am very pleased that Germany was able to host the Council of Europe exhibition and provide substantial support, as it had done with the previous exhibition in 2006.
Especially in times of financial crisis, current events threaten to overshadow the strong bonds between Europe’s peoples. For that reason, we are pleased to see that the Council of Europe is making an important contribution to promoting communication in Europe with its work in the field of culture. Meeting and communicating with each other builds mutual trust and gives us the opportunity to break down prejudices and correct our false impressions.
Since the beginning of the year, Germany has been a full member of the Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes. We support this programme and think it is a model for the future. Routes connect Europe across borders and are witnesses to our common culture and history. As a country in the middle of Europe, Germany is part of many of these routes, such as the Via Regia, the Transromanica and the Hansa.A growing number of German cities are also participating in the Council of Europe’s Intercultural Cities programme.
As reassuring as this might be, we must still face up to the challenges of our times.We must not rest on our laurels. The pace of change today is extreme. We are living through a period of upheaval: the financial and economic crisis affects us; we feel the consequences of changes in the environment and climate. In the field of culture, we are seeing massive changes brought about by the digital revolution.
We can only master the challenges that come with globalization if Europe stands united as a community of values. Europe is our joint response to these challenges. In this situation, the Council of Europe, in its role as keeper of pan European values, is important to us all. We join together to strengthen the Council of Europe and increase its effectiveness. Germany thus supports the current Council of Europe reforms, concentrating on its core competencies: protecting human rights across the European continent, shoring up the rule of law and promoting democracy. At the same time, we advocate increased cooperation between the Council of Europe and other international organizations, especially the European Union and the United Nations.
At this conference we will therefore also discuss innovative approaches to meeting the challenges we are facing together, approaches to be taken up in the Council of Europe’s collaborative work.Germany is actively taking on these challenges, for example with the German Digital Library (Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek), which connects the databases of over 30,000 cultural and academic institutions in Germany and will be integrated into Europeana, the European digital library.
Digitalization makes it possible to expand free access to culture to all people and overcome past physical, geographical and technical barriers,opening up unknown worlds of knowledge to us and facilitating new forms of interconnectedness on the local, regional and international level. For this reason we emphasize that the fundamental rights and civil liberties laid down in the European Convention on Human Rights must also be respected on the internet and we reject countries’ arbitrary infringements of their citizens’ liberty also online.
We all live in an era in which financial expenditures must increasingly be aimed at sustainability and efficiency. The Council of Europe is no exception. We must set priorities, find new partners and seek synergies. However, this is also an opportunity for the Council of Europe to hone its image.
Even in times of financial crisis and dwindling finances, we should preserve adequate state funding for art and culture and be aware of how important culture is. There are many good reasons to do so.
Free societies promote the creativity and personal development of their citizens. The state establishes the legal and financial framework for this. Independent artists, museums, theatres, associations, foundations, companies, universities and many others complete the picture. Protecting and expanding this diversity is our job.
The mobilizing power of art and culture creates forums for encounters and exchanges between people, contributing to security and conflict prevention. Situated between art, business and technology, the cultural and creative industry is a catalyst for innovation. In a competitive global market, Europe’s cultural and creative industry is an essential element of our “soft power”.
However, we cannot realize our goals if we do not view culture as closely connected to democracy and fundamental freedoms.Freedom, especially freedom of opinion and freedom of cultural expression, is a necessary prerequisite for the flourishing of culture, art and creativity.Creative people are a pillar of our pluralistic societies: authors, designers, musicians, film producers, artists and actors produce important ideal values, which create cultural diversity and dynamic economies.
Conversely, creativity is hobbled by societies lacking in freedom.Artistic freedom is thus a reflection of a society’s tolerance, especially towards dissenters and minorities.These days it is often young artists who test the flexible limits of newly won freedoms with their projects. Often they put themselves at personal risk in doing so.
We must continually fight for freedom, democracy and the rule of law. These values must be fully realized. In the discussions on a final declaration for this conference, we have seen how difficult this can be. We have already accomplished much, but I must express our regret that we have not been able to agree on an explicit recognition of the right to freedom of expression laid down in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Fundamental freedoms are universal values that have been accepted by all of the Council of Europe’s member states. They are not negotiable. They guide us in our action and our cooperation.
I am pleased that the Conference of Ministers of Culture has taken up these important questions and gives us an opportunity to exchange ideas. I would like to thank our hosts and the many people who made this conference possible. I hope we have productive discussions and achieve lasting results.