The New Agenda for Culture as a Tool for European Integration: A Critical Analysis

Dr. Karsten Xuereb
University of Malta,
doi: 10.18278/aia.4.3.5

Karsten Xuereb completed his PhD in cultural relations in the Mediterranean at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona in 2012. He also holds a M.A. in European Cultural Policy and Management from the University of Warwick. He currently serves as projects coordinator at the Institute for Tourism, Travel & Culture at the University of Malta. He is a member of the scientific committee of the Transatlantic Dialogue conference series held by the University of Luxembourg (, a member of the scientific committee of The Phoenicians’ Cultural Route of the Council of Europe on behalf of the Maltese cultural association Inizjamed ( and a member of the coordinating team of the Brokering Intercultural Exchange Network, a research network exploring the role of arts and cultural management ( His research is available at

In May 2018, the European Commission published ‘>New Agenda for Culture’ Acknowledging the social and political challenges Europe faces today, through this communication the Commission aims at contributing towards European cohesion and integration through culture. The array of instruments in the field of culture conceived by the EU seems to have been counterproductive: rather than helping achieve social aims, they seem to have contributed to further alienation in part due to the self-serving purpose of these instruments (Barnett 2001; Valentine 2018). This paper argues that cultural projects, including Creative Europe flagships such as the European Capital of Culture, have turned efforts at participation and engagement into matters of self-satisfying bureaucratic merit and achievement.

The tension between neoliberal economic aims and progressive social concerns that cuts across the new culture agenda will be highlighted in the context of wider European cultural policy. Possible outcomes of the agenda will be assessed in relation to the general political and social climate of the EU. This paper critically addresses the communication in its form as the latest exercise by the European Commission, in relation to other institutions forming the European Union, to address a sense of European malaise resulting from a democratic deficit through cultural means. The experience of more than three decades of cultural competence and the limits thereof in relation to the principle of subsidiarity exercised by the Member States, traced back to the Treaty of the European Union of 1992, will be examined for the visions set out by the EU, the expectations generated, and shortcomings suffered.

Europe is more than a system of legal norms and rules and political institutions which regulate European citizenship. Europe is also a symbolic space where projections and memories, the collective experiences and identifications of the people of Europe are represented. Europe has a cultural meaning” (Eder 2000:245).

The destruction of Europe in the “short twentieth century” (Hobsbawm 2009) is a good example of a period in history when social life through political activity in our continent became severely compromised and fell apart. Since then, efforts at nurturing anew our human fabric have been led in practice as well as captured in a symbolic way by the European Union (EU). Of itself, the EU has been a product of the two most recent European conflicts with global consequences.

In Se questo è un uomo (If this is a man), Primo Levi revisits the turtuous year he spent in Auschwitz between 1944 and 1945. In a second, companion narrative, La tregua (The truce), he describes his own and a companion’s long route back home, first out of Poland through Eastern Europe to Russia, then south and west back to his native Turin in northern Italy. Levi lays great emphasis on the mechanical aspect of the evil with which Nazism inflicted terrible years on Europeans of different nationality, faith, gender, and ethnicity during the Second World War. The meticulous approach to the captivity, slavery, exploitation, and annihilation of many fellow Europeans, till then not yet joined by a sense of shared citizenry, is rendered in great detail by the Jewish writer. His text suggests that the perpetrators placed a great deal of belief on the merits of exactitude. This disposition implies an adherence to technique, administration, and method that supersedes the appreciation of human beings and their nature. In a striking description of Nazi prisoners of war begging for bread from their former inmates, the now vanquished soldiers are branded as “good executors of all the orders, good instruments of power”, who, with no power to follow and implement, are “empty” and “inert”. They are like “dead leaves” that the wind blows to a corner. They are finally dismissed as “larvae”, ironically, not at the beginning of life, but at the end of it (247–248).[1]

It is striking to note how the contemporary importance given to the legal, bureaucratic, and procedural aspects of the EU echoes this former dedication to technical detail that this paper argues, misses the wood for the trees. Furthermore, inspiring visions and significant efforts addressing the recovery of what is of value in Europe are subverted through this emphasis on what is, admittedly at times, a strong human needs to clarify, control, delineate, and establish norms and regulations with which to standardise behaviour and rigidify the spirit to improvise, improve, and create new ways of envisioning patterns of relations and interaction with one another.[2]

Culture and Disintegration
In a slim yet insightful book published earlier this year, another Italian writer, anthropologist Adriano Favole (2018) identifies what may be described as the traps and pitfalls of culture (48). He also writes about how these can be overcome through an open-minded approach to the norms and patterns of human relations. It is ironic that, from this perspective, culture itself may be considered to be one of the contributing factors to the disintegration of society. This is so when people, particularly those aggregated in groups with an intention to promote what is understood and presented as a common, uniform and prioritised agenda, is imposed on others that may belong or identify with that group, as well as others outside it (40).

Society makes use of a number of apparatus, to recall Althusser (2014), to establish the boundaries of identity and its markers. A school is one of them (46). The contemporary deference to political correctness is a norm that is also pervasive across a great number of channels and means of communication (14). Favole recalls the reference by Robert Hughes to the development of a “linguistic Lourdes”: this humorous image evokes the formation of a holy space void of controversy and charged with faith, through excessive caution given by writers, public speakers, and others with an influential role attached to their voice to matters of cultural diversity (14). Favole extends the argument to charge our societies with an abuse of another type of cautious approach, namely the ethical one. Recalling the Norwegian anthropologist Unni Wikan in her writings on the value of cultures and the respect they elicit from us, Favole challenges our preconceptions of cultures as complete, self-sufficient entities that somehow fit nicely with identity and political agendas that tend to divide rather than encourage exchange and even what may be at times inevitable and necessary confrontation (15).[3]

In a text published at the turn of this millennium, Amin Maalouf (2000) wrote about “murderous identities”,[4] also challenging stereotypical thinking that tends to make people fit themselves and others in boxes that exclude influence across cultures and identity markers. In a memorable passage, he pits the vertical heritage of people, which they access from their ancestors, against the horizontal one, which emanates from possibly different people who are current family members, colleagues, peers or influences in some way or another (18). Favole illustrates this perception through the use of a striking image of culture being somewhat cross-eyed. He claims that human cultures look to the past and nurture dreams of identity that tend to be unitary in ambition (39). On the other hand, they also look forward, and outside their immediate group, seeking openings in the cracks of identity (16).

It is ironic that what may be perceived as a weakness by politicians, be they professed populists or convinced democrats alike, may be valued as a point of strength. The advantage lies in the marks and tendencies that escape attempts at social engineering as one has witnessed throughout time and space, ranging from fascist and communist regimes in Europe in the twentieth century to the aggregation of puritanical natives in xenophobic social constructs within the EU in the twenty-first century. Favole likens this influence to the plant-like fronds or veins that are exhibited in blocks of marble, acknowledging the botanic root of this perception (59). In doing so, he is reviving Homi Bhabha’s conception of identities as thriving on hybridity (1985), with the perceptions of somewhat clear and delineated beings and behaviours exposed for their superficiality and the exposure of the spaces between. As commented to this author by Maltese-Serb photographer Zvezdan Reljic, focusing on the lines on the surface depicting his models is a way of delving deeper into the nature of humanity.[5]

The EU Machinery
It is ironic that the very mechanism envisaged supporting the cultural dimension in Europe today, and that is successful in part, may be criticised for being counter-productive in achieving this aim. It is at times waterlogged with the bureaucracy that slows down, if not eviscerates, the spirit of cultural exchange based on inspiration and innovative creativity so proudly delineated in the EU’s new agenda for culture. The agenda in and of itself tries to balance an up-to-date analysis with optimistic proposals based on the inherent value of culture as well as an instrumental interpretation of it. In the agenda, the European Commission makes it known that “EU citizens believe culture is the most important factor in creating a sense of community (European Commission 2018:1).” On the other hand, it notes that “36% do not currently participate in cultural activities” (1). Through an admirable syllogism, it claims that, therefore, “increasing cultural participation would bring Europeans closer together.” In light of these findings, and, the Commission adds, “to calls from EU leaders for increased EU collaboration on culture” (2), it adopted the proposal for the new agenda for culture.

Despite its name, the agenda is not new in the way it aims to pursue the established balancing act between, on the one hand, addressing social issues, and on the other hand, prioritising neo-liberal market mechanisms. Its three main aims duly consist of

  1. harnessing the power of culture and cultural diversity for social cohesion and wellbeing, by promoting cultural participation, mobility of artists, and the protection of heritage (European Commission 2018:3);
  2. second, supporting jobs and growth in the cultural and creative sectors, by promoting arts and culture in education, boosting relevant skills, which, as Jeremy Valentine (2018:157) argues, have replaced “aptitudes”, and encouraging innovation in culture (European Commission 2018:4); and
  3. third, in what has been steadily gaining more importance since at least 2007,[6] the strengthening of international cultural relations, by making the most of the potential of culture to foster sustainable development and, ambitiously, even global peace (European Commission 2018:6).

In the introductory part of the communication itself, the Commission identifies a number of factors that contribute to the climate of disaffection with the EU and with traditional politics in European states in general, together with a rather pessimistic outlook towards the development of society in Europe today. This feeling is particularly true when compared, in relative terms, to what maybe a generation or two ago had hoped for in working on a joint European project. Therefore, on the list is the recent, and for many Europeans, on-going economic and financial crisis, growing social inequalities, the challenge of a growing rate of diversity in populations and, somehow related, ensuing actions and movements that promote political populism, radicalisation, and the threat of terrorism (1).

The Instrumentalisation of Culture Through Solutionism
In a typically ambitious overview of what culture means to Europe today, the agenda claims the following:

“Culture promotes active citizenship, common values, inclusion and intercultural dialogue within Europe and across the globe. It brings people together, including newly arrived refugees and other migrants, and helps us feel part of communities. Culture and creative industries also have the power to improve lives, transform communities, generate jobs and growth, and create spill over effects in other economic sectors (1).”

It is interesting to interpret this claim in light of a critique of the instrumental interpretation of cultural matters. In a recent analytical text on the ironic lack of value and capability to deliver any significant outcome through a great deal of technical preparation in what is described as “solutionism”, Spanish cultural critic Marina Garcés (2017:8) notes how:

“Education, knowledge and science sink, today, in a loss of prestige. They can resurface only if they can show they can offer workable, technical and economic solutions. Solutionism is the alibi of a knowledge that has lost the attribution of making us better, as people and as a society. We no longer believe this is possible, and therefore only ask for solutions and more solutions. We do not believe we can improve ourselves, but only gain more or less privileges in a span of time that goes nowhere, because we have given up on aiming for a better future.”[7]

Valentine (2018:156) applies such a perspective to the European context. He refers to Clive Barnett (2001) in relation to New Public Management practices applying neoliberal market structures to cultural governance and practice, and notes how Barnett’s analysis of the development of cultural policy in the EU exposes the failure of the EU to achieve to make good on its motto of “unity in diversity.”[8] This is despite the efforts of European elites to develop a reference point embedded in Europe’s cultural heritage to act as a foundation for affective legitimacy, as well as in spite of the fragmented nature of governance at the EU level within which cultural policy is distributed and among which policy actors strive for influence.

Valentine argues that together with the democratic deficit, one of the major obstacles to achieveing this goal remains “the persistent popularity of American entertainment and its market logic (158).” This market logic lies on the basis of neoliberal structures that guide to recall Adam Smith’s invisible hand image, global commercial activity, including in the European space (Abraham-Hamanoiel et al. 2017). The neoliberal practice adds a layer of complexity to the “elite obsession with elite culture”, as argued by Barnett, and aptly recalling the duality that emerged in the Thatcherite years in the UK in the 1980s (Hewison 2014:10). Within the EU context, a mission to safeguard culture and the arts coupled with neoliberal practices was established, in contrast to Anglo-American practices also pronounced in the last three decades, through the bureaucratisation of what became defined as a “sector”. Furthermore, since the turn of this century, efforts have been channelled primarily in relation to the “cultural and creative industries” (43).

The role of the EU in addressing cultural matters on a global level is closely linked to the relationship with the Member States, in observance of the subsidiarity principle.[9] This function ties culture to policy areas that bring together neo-liberal economic priorities with social concerns. Its practice extends across different territorial levels, namely trans-national, national, and intra-national ones while developing a regional reality of its own. In order to achieve its overall goals, the EU has adopted conflicting measures in favour of the free market while concerning itself with poverty and other aspects of social inequality and disaggregation. These contradictions lead to an underlying tension between the EU economic and social policy.

This tension travels across different geographic zones, both internal as well as external to the EU (Cafruny 2016:9–27). For instance, the European political block has adopted a harsh approach towards its economic, financial, and political interests (Marsili and Varoufakis 2017:14–17). Manifestations of this agenda include the agenda adopted towards those European populations more seriously affected by the 2008 economic and financial crisis in prioritising austerity rather than solidarity; a growing number of economic bilateral trade agreements promoting free trade with third countries; and the drive towards securing and securitising neighbouring territories to the east and south of Europe through economic, intelligence, and military means (Bilgin 2004).

Barnett argues in seeking to address the complexity of contemporary demand for and supply of cultural and artistic products and services within a growing commercial logic, the “dirigiste elite” of Europe sought introduced an official form of cultural action, consolidated in the formal recognition of culture in the 1992 Treaty of the EU. This development of culture as an object to be managed “transformed its ontological status from symbol to practice of governing via its passage through EU governance processes (4).” In other words, culture is changed from “an anthropological symbolic object of ritual and ceremony to a governable object of policy (4).” According to Barnett, the vehicle for that process is the development of an “ethic of participation (4)”, designed to encourage active citizenship contributions to cultural development. However, the presupposition of a common unified culture is minimised in favour of the cultivation of affective participation or “engagement” that legitimates governance pragmatically.

The ironic outcome of this process of formalisation is that culture loses value and means in its contribution to the establishment of a common European identity. Instead, it becomes a tool by which to legitimise EU policies. In this respect, Barnett confirms the relevance of Tony Bennett’s Foucauldian approach wherein he displaced questions of the essence of culture in favour of questions of its effects (Bennett 2004).

Not a Fun Circus: Tightropes, Tension Wires, and Balancing Acts
It may be argued that the European Commission has attemped to “reconcile the discursive tensions between culture and the economy in the field of cultural action in a way that respects the intrinsic qualities of ‘the cultural’ while enabling their instrumental deployment in the service of economic and political imperatives of integration (4).” At the same time, other related political dynamics are related to the ambiguity of governance. For instance, networks of interest-group collective actors get involved in developing and addressing cultural policy while different degrees of subsidiarity is at play. In turn, this process stimulates a phenomenon that may be described as a “gravy train” through the invention of bureaucratic devices such as committees, working groups, and initiatives organised around the further conflicting demands of harmonisation and diversity that monitor, measure, and evaluate culture. Barnett (2001) argues that the ultimate aim is to tie subjective will to objective effects in order to calibrate “the transformation of the disposition of citizens in line with multiple objectives (31).”

The tension between the transformative and the expressive cultural imaginaries is exploited in order to establish:

“legitimate claims over cultural policy functions” [where “s]uccess depends upon finessing a complex set of questions regarding authority and accountability; questions of who represents diversity, when this has been primarily defined in terms of bounded communities bought together in forms of dialogue and exchange, and questions of who defines the core values around which diversity should be encouraged to flourish” (32).

Drawing on recent direct experience, the author’s recent participation at the Structured Dialogue process initiated by the European Commission exemplifies such a contorted process. Over the past decade, the relationship between cultural partners in European civil society and the European Commission has channelled into a coordinated stakeholder approach, including the structured dialogue process, as part of the developing EU agenda for culture.[10] As part of the latest structured dialogue efforts with the European Commission, called Voices of Culture, a brainstorming session on social inclusion through horizontal partnering across civil society took place in April 2018 in Brussels. In all 36 participants representing cultural and social networks, platforms, and organisations addressing the arts and social inclusion took part. Six months of research across various cultural and social inclusion platform led to a report, published in October 2018, that is available to the general public through the Open Method of Coordination (OMC) process of the EU.[11] The OMC is another instrument the Commission uses to coordinate culture matters with professionals in the field, this time appointed by the Member States.[12]

The Voices of Culture process was coordinated by the Goethe Institut Brussels on behalf of the European Commission that maintained its distance in order not to influence outcomes directly, adhering to the arm’s length principle prevalent in many cultural settings nowadays. On the one hand, the intentions and the structure developed are positive. On the other hand, while the process promises the practice of open, transparent and democratic principles, the delivery of results struggles to assert itself over the bureaucratic regime that institutionalises the process. A significant degree of jumping hoops and ticking the right boxes dedicated towards the compilation of what becomes, in effect, yet another, albeit very useful, report, consisting of recommendations and best practice, may lead to a frustrating as well as disappointing process that promotes inclusion and accessibility but the delivery of which is cramped.

In many respects this admittedly harsh assessment ties in with general developments Barnett analyses as part of a wider, global change in the political logics of cultural policy within the hegemonic myth of governance characterised by the emergence of material and subjective infrastructure that Yúdice (2003) describes as:

“an enormous network of arts administrators who mediate between funding sources and artists and/or communities. Like their counterparts in the university and business world, they must produce and distribute the producers of art and culture, who in turn deliver communities or consumers” (13).

Yúdice’s critique is aimed at the “NGO-fication” of cultural policy and the emergence of a “UNESCO-racy”. Furthermore, these groups support and fund numerous projects and firms, both subsidised and for profit, to support their activities, creating a “vast consultocracy” (13). On the one hand, outsourcing this work to external contractors allows their conclusions, often in the form of evaluations, to take on the semblance of objectivity and disinterestedness. On the other hand, many of the subjects overlap in their group memberships, which are rendered more complex by the circulation of knowledge through people in closely-knit networks.

There seems to be a detachment between, on the one hand, the purpose of policy and strategy by the EU addressing culture, and the function in and of itself. Staiger (2009:2) illustrates this self-referentiality in relation to an insightful analysis by Chris Shore (2006). He argues that the development of a cultural practice by the EU “can be seen as part of the EU’s ‘will to power’” (Shore 2006:10). Seen through the lense of governmentality as devised by Foucault, it becomes evident that “by isolating and classifying a specific domain of “European culture” and then establishing programmes to intervene and order that sector for purposes of employment and social cohesion”, cultural action serves a double purpose. Firstly, bolstering the legitimacy of the EU project; secondly, it enlarges the scope of normative power and authority, extending competences into new “occupied fields” of governance (2006:10). Staiger adds another layer to this inquiry into the methods of governace of culture. She interprets Shore’s analysis of European governance in terms of attempts by the EU at promoting European citizenship through culture. She concludes these efforts are aimed at developing a process of social engineering echoing, in a negative way, failed political, at time totalitarian, ideologies of the twentieth century (10).

Transnationalism as a Route Towards European Integration
One element that cultural policy at the EU level supports and in which may lie the seeds for the re-integration of the European space has been the interest in cross-border collaboration. While going into detail is beyond the scope of this paper, EU efforts at enabling the transnational nature of cultural work in Europe through the funding of such projects, for instance through Creative Europe, is of a positive note. With reference to the citizenship-building dimension, which arguably lies at the heart of a re-integration process since it looks at Europeans themselves in their dual local-continental identity, efforts at developing transnationalism at the citizen level, may be interesting. Arguments made in favour of the integration process of “new” Europeans, or newcomers to the European space, may be taken back one step when applied to all citizens, or in simpler terms, people, within the European space. With reference to Robins, Kate MacNeill and Sarah Reynolds argue that efforts that “think outside the national imperative can be thought of as advocating a form of […] cultural practices ‘from below’, which refers to the way migrants and, we suggest, non-migrants, ‘make a living and a new life space for themselves’ (2007:155) outside the dominant national cultural narratives” (16).

Within this context, cultural initiatives on a global, as well as a European, scale shed light on an inherent contradiction in the guiding philosophy adopted by the EU. Over the past few years, the EU agenda for culture in a globalising world has highlighted the enlightened aspect of the Union and project a collaborative dimension based on the tolerance of diversity, innovation, and appreciation of creativity.[13] Recognising the value of cultural diversity outside as well as within the EU has been presented as the keystone for all future relations within the EU. The most visible level of recognition for these efforts came in 2012 in the form of the granting of the Nobel Prize for Peace to the EU for advancing the causes of peace, reconciliation, democracy, and human rights, albeit restricted to the European territory.

The promotion of a strategy for global engagement on a cultural basis, as part of a series of efforts by the EU that encompass different policy areas seeking to achieve various ends, particularly the economic ones set out in the Europe 2020 Strategy for growth and jobs, has become a mainstay of the European approach.[14] These include the tools of “soft power” that are themselves means of building trust and goodwill for further economic ends (Nye 2004). The ratification of the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions very soon after its publication in 2005 further cemented this global vision, adhering to the respect of cultural diversity as a means of enabling the targeted and strategic development of international trade protocols on cultural terms in ways that are advantageous to the EU.

On an intra-European level, the EU has also had a tough balancing act to manage, and it did so with varying results. As has been noted, the EU does not have a cultural policy, as it has in other areas where its competencies reach further into national jurisdiction. Rather, the principle of subsidiarity prevails since “national cultures […] have, of course, been the primary frame of reference in which cultural policy agendas have been elaborated in modern Europe” (Meinhof and Triandafyllidou 2006:3). In areas in which the EU does not have exclusive competence, such as culture, subsidiarity seeks to safeguard the ability of the MS to make decisions and take action. The reference to the principle in the EU Treaties is aimed at ensuring that powers are exercised as close to the citizen as possible, in accordance with the proximity principle referred to in Article 10(3) of the treaties.

Decisions by the different EU bodies, including the Council of the EU, on cultural matters, respect the competences of MS in this area on the basis of national identity and sensitivities related to national cultural expressions. The process of drafting, debating, and approving policy documents that set guidelines, fund cultural programmes and promote the engagement of citizens through particular actions ensures enough room is given to MS to implement and monitor progress in ways that respect national competencies. While positive in its intention, the subsidiarity principle is open to misuse and enables MS to shape guidelines and funding, as well as the mobilisation of resources on a national level but within an EU framework, to achieve arguably nationalistic aims. Thus, results tend to only partially match expectations established at the outset at best and justify national or nationalistic action that contradicts original aims and values through European mechanisms and funds at worst.

It has also been noted that the EU tends to alter its approach towards cultural matters that may give rise to elements of dissonance in relation to heritage interpretation and other sensitive matters related to cultural expression once a territory shifts closer within its domain. This has been observed in detail by Višnja Kisić in the ENCATC-award winning research for 2013 in relation to the governance of difference in heritage matters in the Western Balkans in the aftermath of various conflicts in the twentieth century and the repeated redrawing of political boundaries in the territory. She notes how while a relatively open, inquiring agenda towards contested spaces of inherited culture was encouraged in investigating various areas of heritage-related research in the early stages of projects supported by European and international organisations, this approach gave way to a stricter attitude that favoured a narrower interpretative agenda and discouraged the further exploration of dissonance with open-ended possibilities (2013:288).

On the level of European initiatives, funding schemes encouraging intra-European collaboration have accompanied and supported the steps undertaken by the EU towards enlargement and integration since the late 1970s. In 1992, a supranational competence on culture was included in the TEU signed in Maastricht and amended in Amsterdam in 1997. A specific title on culture led to the Kaleidoscope programme on cultural cooperation, Raphael on cultural heritage and Ariane on publishing and reading, while Culture 2000 effectively reorganised these programmes while establishing a new structure for new programmes (Sassatelli 2006:28).

Since 1985, the European Capital of Culture has developed into arguably the flagship cultural programme of the EU. This is because it requests an ever-growing number of candidate cities to address economic and urban regeneration on the one hand, and social inclusion through civic participation on the other, thus addressing at least two of the main targets of Europe Strategy 2020. As argued by several researchers assessing the impact of the programme and as per the overall tensions experienced by the EU in trying to pursue social goals while engaging in neo-liberal economic practices as outlined above, achieving these twin goals often proves contradictory for participating cities.[15]

Other initiatives that have aimed to contribute to the generation of a greater sense of European belonging and engagement, albeit with less popular appeal than capitals of culture, include the European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage/Europa Nostra Prize and the European Union Prize for Literature. It is hoped that their impact on addressing the European sense of malaise and disaffection that is an issue with the Union may become more than a token contribution. Together with gaining visibility and funding to further the aims of the projects, such efforts may be restructured to develop closely with education systems across the MS, for instance. As mentioned at the European Cultural Forum in Milan in 2017 on the occasion of the official launch of the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018, if tangible and intangible heritage is “the beating heart of Europe”, it may be worth paying more attention to the value of these areas of identity and how they can contribute to a better understanding of citizenship in Europe today.[16]

One may wonder whether the European Commission acknowledges the irony of its statement in the agenda that “[a]n impressive number of actions have been undertaken by MS […] inspired by EU policy collaboration through successive Council Work Plans for Culture, through projects funded by EU programmes, and through macro-regional strategies”, referring the reader to the staff working document accompanying the communication, which provides an overview of actions under the previous agenda, as well as “details of actions proposed in this new agenda plus other relevant actions ongoing or planned, and details of consultations, statistics and surveys which have informed its development.”[17] In the light of decades of cultural action and with the benefit of hindsight, a quantitative argument needs to be supported through a critical, qualitative assessment.

Far from assuming the responsibility of proposing solutions, also in congruence with the critical stance of this paper towards solutionism, the concluding words will address the possibility of considering a move towards less Europe, not more. This does not match the rhetoric of populist parties that have seen the rise of Brussels-bashing and phenomena such as Brexit shake feelings of European identity and belonging over the past few years. Rather, it wishes to consider engaging with a Europe of less machinery and prescriptive, and one of the improved qualities. This may at times necessitate going against the rule-book, already fat, and ever-expanding, by which a great deal of European behaviour is circumscribed today.

One particular area of consideration is European citizenship, which has been addressed earlier on. Therefore, by means of conclusion, a few illustrations of examples in practice may be apt. These include efforts by Welcoming Europe at engaging with the changing demographics of Europe in an open, humane and honest way, supporting solidarity as well as creativity through efforts at mutual integration.[18]

A series of interesting projects that support the fostering of solidarity through cultural cooperation on the basis of innovative approaches to the arts and culture is nurtured by the European Cultural Foundation (ECF). Projects such as The European Balcony Project and Courageous Citizens adopt a wide-angle perspective at European citizenship with a special focus of supporting creativity and innovation in social dynamics in the activity of young people across Europe.[19]

Finally, in relation to the theme of solidarity and the mutual integration of European citizens, it may be fitting to do so with the extracted words of this poem, in Maltese, an official EU language with the smallest number of native speakers, by Adrian Grima, one of the foremost engaged writers in Europe today who addresses the dream of a solidary Europe through the lense of migration and welcome:[20]

Kieku kelli lanċa żgħira
kont noħroġha fuq il-baħar
biex ninzerta l-klandestini
għaddejjin bil-pass minn ħdejna,
u nagħtihom li jonqoshom
ħalli jkomplu l-mixja tagħhom
lejn Ewropa solidali.

If I had a small boat
I would set out to sea
to come across the clandestines
slowly skirting our island,
and give them what they need
to keep going in their voyage
towards a solidary Europe.


[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are by the author.

[2] To pursue the reference to Italian perspectives of Nazi perverse solutionism, a reference to the 1977 comedy by Mino Guerrini Von Buttiglione Sturmtruppenführer is not amiss. In a hilarious scene, yet terrifying for its depiction of pointless precision, a series of soldiers play out their duties in ridiculous circumstances, but with admirable efficiency, until the whole thing falls apart.

[3] On this topic see in particular: U. Wikan, “Culture: A New Concept of Race,” Social Anthropology 7, no. 1 (1999): 57–64.

[4] This is a translation of the original title of the book in French, Les identités meurtrièrs.

[5] An analysis of the interview with Zvezdan forms part of a piece of research on the role of intercultural managers in Malta and Europe today the author aims to publish in the near future.

[6] European Commission, Communication on a European agenda for culture in a globalizing world (Brussels, COM(2007) 242 final, 2007).

[7] ‘La educación, el saber y la ciencia se hundan también, hoy, en un desprestigio del que solo pueden salvarse si se muestran capaces de ofrecer soluciones laborales, soluciones técnicas, soluciones económicas. El solucionismo es la coartada (alibi) de un saber que ha perdido la atribución de hacernos mejores, como personas y como sociedad. Ya no creemos en ello y por eso le pedimos soluciones y nada màs que soluciones. No contamos ya con hacernos mejores a nosotros mismos sino solamente en obtener màs o menos privilegios en un tiempo que no va a ninguna parte, porque ha renunciado a apuntar a un futuro mejor.’

[8] [accessed 31 August 2019].

[9] The principles of subsidiarity and proportionality are established by Article 5(3) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and Protocol (No. 2). A detailed discussion of the relevance of these principles to cultural matters is provided below. The text of the article reads as follows: ‘Under the principle of subsidiarity, in areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Union shall act only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States, either at central level or at regional and local level, but can rather, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved at Union level. The institutions of the Union shall apply the principle of subsidiarity as laid down in the Protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. National Parliaments ensure compliance with the principle of subsidiarity in accordance with the procedure set out in that Protocol.’

[10] [accessed 2 August 2018].

[11] [accessed 2 August 2018]. The report is available here: [accessed 31 August 2019].

[12] An extensive list of governance apparatus operated by the European Commission in the field of culture is provided and assessed by Kate Mattocks, “Uniting the Nations of Europe? Exploring the European Union’s Cultural Policy Agenda,” in The Routledge Handbook of Global Cultural Policy, eds. V. Durrer, T. Miller and D. O’Brien (Oxon: Routledge, 2018), 397–413.

[13] For further details and a fuller picture, one may refer to the following, recent publications by the European Commission: Joint Communication to the European Parliament and the Council, Towards an EU Strategy for International Cultural Relations, Brussels, 8 June 2016; and Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, On a European Agenda for Culture in a Globalizing World, Brussels, 10 May 2007. Both texts can be found at: [accessed 31 August 2019].

[14] [accessed 31 August 2019].

[15] See: N. L. Immler and H. Sakkers, “(Re)Programming Europe: European Capitals of Culture: Rethinking the Role of Culture,” Journal of European Studies 44, no. 1 (2014): 3–29; T. Lähdesmäki, “Cultural Activism as a Counter-Discourse to the European Capital of Culture Programme: The Case of Turku 2011,” European Journal of Cultural Studies 16, no. 5 (2013): 598–619; C. O’Callaghan, “Urban anxieties and creative tensions in the European Capital of Culture 2005: ‘It couldn’t just be about Cork, like’,” International Journal of Cultural Policy 18, no. 2 (2012): 185–204; K. Xuereb, “The Impact of the European Union on Cultural Policy in Malta,” Croatian International Relations Review XXIV, no. 82 (2018): 38–61.

[16] [accessed 31 August 2019].

[17] European Commission, p. 2 referring to European Commission, SWD/2018/167, Brussels, 2018.

[18] A longer discussion on citizenship in multicultural societies as envisaged by Bhikhu Parekh and mutually assured diversity as explained by Ziauddin Sardar is found here:K. Xuereb, “European Cultural Policy and Migration: Why Should Cultural Policy in the European Union Address the Impact of Migration on Identity and Social Integration?,” International Migration 49, no. 2 (2011): 28–53.

[19] [accessed 31 August 2019].

[20] A. Grima, Kieku Kelli Lanċa Żgħira, Rakkmu (Santa Venera: Klabb Kotba Maltin, 2006). Translation by the author.

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