Opening Remarks by Minister of State Michelle Müntefering at the opening of Panel I at the conference ”Vigoni for Europe – Cultural Heritage & International Cultural Relations“

10.09.2018 - Speech

Dear Mrs. Fless,
dear experts on International cultural politics,
Ladies and gentlemen,

We need to talk about Europe, not only because that is what this event is about, but also because the future of our joint means of taking action, beyond the nation states, is currently at stake.

So let’s talk about Europe! We all sense that we can no longer take it for granted. We need to work closely together on reshaping Europe if we want to be able to meet the global challenges.

That is why “Europe United” should become the motto of the European Union, and not just because of Brexit or Donald Trump’s “America First” policies.

It may be quite obvious, but we should remember that while both Germany and Italy are major players in Europe, we are far too small at the global level to defend and assert our interests on our own.

And apart from that, Europe is the key project for peace in our time. After the terrible experiences of the 20th century, we should regard this project as an incredible gift.

As a founding member, Italy has always been aware of that, despite all the political upheavals of the past decades.

That meant a lot to people of my generation in Germany.

But I am not only thinking of visits to your beautiful country and the many, many good memories I have of my childhood holidays here, including memories of my father who tried to pass for an Italian every summer – with more or less success I might add.

Europe also means freedom for people of my generation – freedom that is now under pressure again these days.

Apart from the political will to take joint action, “Europe United” means standing up for effective multilateralism in Europe because we must have the necessary means and instruments in order to be effective. And where they do not yet exist, we must create them.

This means deciding whether one believes one can achieve more together or alone. I firmly believe that we achieve more together.

That is why we need cooperation – and that means co‑production in the cultural sphere.

In the Federal Foreign Office, our approach centres on cooperation between European cultural institutes such as our own Goethe‑Institut, the Istituto Italiano di Cultura, the Institut français and the Instituto Cervantes aimed at showcasing European culture and a European understanding of culture worldwide.

In 2017, the Franco‑German Council of Ministers agreed to establish ten fully integrated Franco‑German cultural institutes abroad.

However, the express aim is that they will not confine themselves to Franco‑German culture, but will be open to collaboration with the institutes of other EU member states and become a nucleus for European integration in cultural relations.

In other words, we want to put “Europe United” into practice in the cultural sphere.

And with regard to Europe, allow me to mention another very successful and, in the best sense of the word, popular instrument of European cultural policy – the European Capital of Culture, a title that will be held by Matera in southern Italy and Plovdiv in Bulgaria in 2019.

The impressive old town of Matera, whose cave dwellings, the Sassi, have been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993 was certainly a big reason for this award.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Particularly at times of great upheaval, we need to ask ourselves more than ever and in a self‑critical way what cultural policy needs to do to keep up with the times.

In the Federal Foreign Office, we have just launched a process aimed at reshaping our cultural policy strategy. Our goal is to draw up a new international cultural policy programme by 2020.

We are doing this because international cultural and education work has an important role to play, especially today, as exchange, dialogue and collaboration mean it is predestined to provide the access that remains closed to traditional diplomacy, namely access to and discussion with civil society.

One hundred years after the establishment of our Cultural Directorate‑General in 1920, we want to enhance this access.

Ralf Dahrendorf, one of my predecessors at the Federal Foreign Office, was a pioneer of the idea of a “foreign policy of societies”, while Willy Brandt described international cultural policy as the third pillar of German foreign policy and its task as that of “working to strengthen reason as a driving force in the world”.

I firmly believe that in turbulent times, we need reason more than anything else if we want to shape the world.

Investments in culture are good investments because they create space for exchange and education. That is also something we need in and for Europe.

The German Presidency of the EU in the second half of 2020 will certainly be a good time to discuss and make decisions together on this.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The European Year of Cultural Heritage, which has a high public profile, has revealed that cultural heritage touches the hearts of many people, not only in Europe, but also further afield.

While we are gathered here, a conference on reconstructing the city of Mosul in Iraq is taking place at UNESCO in Paris.

I see this as a sign that we are only in a position to also meet the challenges of today with cultural measures and strategies if we work together at the multilateral level and build on a shared European understanding.

As regards the protection of cultural heritage, Europe is currently the leading source of expert knowledge worldwide.

We should make better use of this for European cultural policy in the coming years, as we currently find ourselves competing on ideas, talented people, ways of seeing the world and values.

Germany is willing to use its EU Presidency in the second half of 2020 to pave the way for further progress in this area.

As is always the case in Europe, one or even two countries cannot do this on their own. We are also counting here on cooperation with Italy and other European partners. What we need to do now is work on “Europe United”, the task of our generation.

I for one feel more optimistic once again, as our talks last night really inspired me.

I will have to return to Berlin shortly, so I hope you will have interesting discussions here today and that we will meet again soon.

Thank you very much.


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