by Davyth Hicks
The European Parliament adopted yesterday by 369 votes in favour, 15 against with 68 abstentions, an own initiative report from Christa Prets (PES, A) on the protection and promotion of cultural diversity. MEPs also welcomed the recent UNESCO decision (October 2003) to launch a process leading to an international convention on cultural diversity.
The Intergovernmental Conference was also asked to bring together the different references to diversity and cultural pluralism in the draft constitution. Regarding the negotiation and conclusion of agreements in the field of external trade in cultural and audio-visual services, the majority of MEPs believe that decisions in the Council should continue to be taken unanimously.
In the report, MEPs also reaffirmed the importance of public services in maintaining cultural diversity.
The report itself, broad in scope and far-sighted pointed out that ‘the principle of cultural diversity is still not recognised as a fundamental right under international law’.
The Report calls upon the Commission ‘to foster cultural dialogue with national, federal and regional Ministers of culture and education, associating civil society and civil servants’.
It also requests the Commission to submit a Communication, based on Article 151(4) of the EC Treaty, as how to ‘incorporate culture as a cross-cutting principle applicable to all policies in the European Union, thereby assessing possible consequences for culture of decisions in other policy areas’.
Referring to the UNESCO Convention on Cultural Diversity it: ‘considers that it should fully acknowledge the necessity of preserving language diversity as a basic fact of development cooperation and international relations in general, and with that in mind calls for specific strategies for the preservation and protection of diversity and strategies for the promotion of multilingualism to be developed by means of active and concrete support for education in the mother tongue and for the acquisition of foreign languages, training and consciousness-raising without discrimination’.
Importantly it adds that Parliament: ‘Reaffirms its vigilance concerning the treatment of minority populations and minority languages, including indigenous languages, in the context of the enlarged Europe; reiterates the need for multilateral institutions, including regional ones, to protect and guarantee the rights and freedoms of all peoples, particularly in the context of a multi-polar world made up of regional units’.
The report included many of the conclusions from the work of The Committee on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security and Defence Policy. For example: ‘that language diversity should be fully recognised at state and nation level as a basic fact of development cooperation and international relations in general, and with that in mind calls for specific strategies for the preservation and protection of diversity and strategies for the promotion of multilingualism to be developed by means of active and concrete support for education in the mother tongue and for the acquisition of foreign languages, training and consciousness-raising without discrimination’.
The Foreign Affairs Committee conclusions also called on the European Commission that: ‘In view of the danger of the disappearance of numerous languages and cultures … thought needs to be given without delay to working out and realising a legal instrument guaranteeing respect for cultural diversity on the international scene, both individually and collectively’.
MEP Nelly Maes, European Free Alliance Vice-President and draftsperson for the Foreign Affairs Committee, said in her speech that: 'We must be aware that the market will not safeguard and protect cultural diversity. Therefore we need to develop instruments to protect diversity and furthermore to safeguard cultural identity'.
She added that: 'Languages and cultures are disappearing rapidly and that is the reason why I am very pleased with the fact that you as rapporteur,' referring to Christa Prets, 'have stressed this principle, a principle that should be a guideline too in our contacts with developing countries'.
Ms Maes continued that: 'I'm convinced that every community should have the possibility to protect it's own culture against oppression, and to fight against language imperialism. All our colleagues underlined that the respect for languages is one of the greatest assets of the enlargement