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Europe and culture, diversity facing an identity crisis

With a record num­ber of 33 elec­to­ral lists, the Euro­pean elec­tions show an opti­mum varie­ty when it comes to the poli­ti­cal land­scape. While the Euro­pean Union is going through an unpre­ce­den­ted cri­sis of values and a quest for mea­ning, we inves­ti­gate the place of diver­si­ty – cultu­ral this time – in the cam­pai­gns of the French can­di­dates com­pe­ting on 26 May. In the stric­test sense, it is almost non-existent. Even down to the embo­di­ment of pro­jects pro­mo­ted by mono­chrome lea­ding can­di­dates. But by broa­de­ning the notion of diver­si­ty to the glo­bal theme of living toge­ther, seve­ral ideas about Europe clash in a clear reaf­fir­ma­tion of the left-right divide as it is tra­di­tio­nal­ly per­cei­ved in col­lec­tive repre­sen­ta­tions in terms of recep­tion, migra­tion, rights of asy­lum and free­dom of move­ment, and glo­bal solidarity.

The obses­sion with bor­der pro­tec­tion ral­lies the right wing

On the far-right of France’s poli­ti­cal spec­trum, the Front Natio­nal – rena­med Ras­sem­ble­ment Natio­nal – advo­cates for a rede­fi­ning of Europe, in par­ti­cu­lar on the grounds of “the values of civi­li­sa­tion, sha­red roots and his­to­ry drawn from Greece and Ancient Rome, then Chris­tia­ni­ty”, rejec­ting Tur­key’s inte­gra­tion into the EU and pushing this logic as far as “stop­ping legal immi­gra­tion”. In return, the list drawn up by Jor­dan Bar­del­la pro­mises “an ambi­tious deve­lop­ment poli­cy with Afri­can coun­tries,” but in a way that links “finan­cial aid to close coope­ra­tion to control migra­tion flows”. But it may be Nico­las Dupont-Aignan – a Debout la France can­di­date – who responds most clear­ly on this sub­ject with an outright rejec­tion of “mul­ti­cul­tu­ra­lism”. As for Fran­çois Asselineau’s Union Popu­laire Répu­bli­caine and Flo­rian Philippot’s (the Front Natio­nal party’s for­mer num­ber two) Les Patriotes, there is no sal­va­tion other than “Frexit”, a hypo­the­ti­cal French with­dra­wal from the Euro­pean Union.

Among Les Répu­bli­cains, out­si­der Fran­çois-Xavier Bel­la­my places “l’Europe fron­tière” [“Europe-Bor­der”] at the fore­front of his pro­ject. The fight against Isla­mist ter­ro­rism being his secon­da­ry concern. It is not only on the issue of migra­tion that col­lu­sion bet­ween the so-cal­led repu­bli­can right wing and that of Le Pen is clear. They both go as far as almost copying-and-pas­ting a call for the inclu­sion of “Europe’s Judeo-Chris­tian roots in Euro­pean trea­ties”. On the other hand, culture appears rela­ti­ve­ly high­ly in the cata­logue of pro­po­sals, with the intro­duc­tion of “1% Euro­pean culture to pre­serve our heri­tage in our lands (churches, castles…)” and the defence of “lin­guis­tic diver­si­ty within Euro­pean institutions”.

Culture, the poor rela­tion of Europe ?

There is no head-on anti-forei­gn dis­course at the IDU, Union of Demo­crats and Inde­pen­dents – whose colours are worn by Jean-Chris­tophe Lagarde – des­pite the obses­sive anxie­ty for bor­der pro­tec­tion. The “crea­tion of a net­work and pass for Euro­pean museums” is a key claim in terms of culture. For La Répu­blique en Marche ! and the whole of the pre­si­den­tial majo­ri­ty, it does not seem neces­sa­ry to publi­cise the details of the Renais­sance list before 9 May… On the menu : “scho­lar­ships and a series of prizes for young contem­po­ra­ry crea­ti­vi­ty” and the deve­lop­ment of “cultu­ral tou­rism”. After the contro­ver­sy over the inclu­sion of her name on a far-right list while still a student, Natha­lie Loi­seau, a lea­ding can­di­date for Macron’s par­ty, expres­sed a bia­sed “no one should enter Europe if they are not invited”.

As for the left, even if not eve­ryone lays claim to the label, like Europe Éco­lo­gie (EELV) or La France Insou­mise (LFI), the tone is more about soli­da­ri­ty, or rather cut­ting ties with exis­ting dis­course about iden­ti­ty and secu­ri­ty. The PS/PRG/Nouvelle donne/Place Publique coa­li­tion led by the essayist Raphaël Glucks­mann – a for­mer dis­ciple of libe­ral Alain Made­lin – remains tight-lip­ped on the issue of culture, with a timid incen­tive towards “inter­cul­tu­ral dia­logue”. Even if a plat­form of elec­ted socia­lists co-signed by the lea­ding can­di­dates states : “Let us be the ones to proud­ly sup­port eman­ci­pa­tion, huma­nism, fra­ter­ni­ty, soli­da­ri­ty and poe­try in poli­ti­cal dis­course, because it is these prin­ciples that are essen­tial when it comes to giving full mea­ning to the construc­tion of Europe.” Chris­tian Bene­det­ti – lea­ding figure in theatre and La France Insou­mise can­di­date – responds to this sta­te­ment by spe­ci­fying the stance of the list led by Manon Aubry, whose cam­pai­gn stresses a “cultu­ral and edu­ca­tio­nal ambi­tion”. “Europe needs all its crea­tive powers to bring a poli­ti­cal life into exis­tence. We must place the making of art and what is known as culture at the centre of Euro­pean poli­tics. But for that, and for eve­ry­thing else, we must shed the libe­ral strait­ja­cket of cur­rent Euro­pean trea­ties”, writes the stage director.

The Medi­ter­ra­nean migrant tra­ge­dy ral­lies the left wing

For the Génération.s par­ty – whose list Vive l’Eu­rope libre is led by Benoit Hamon – cultu­ral ambi­tions lie in a rejec­tion of the “pri­va­ti­sa­tion” of the sec­tor, which will have to be given “Euro­pean public fun­ding for crea­ti­vi­ty and heri­tage”. The most inno­va­tive pro­po­sals include “Euro­pean Houses of Culture”, “a Euro­pean sta­tus for cultu­ral pro­fes­sions” and “the res­ti­tu­tion of all works loo­ted from for­mer colo­nies to their coun­tries of ori­gin”. The for­mer 2017 French pre­si­den­tial can­di­date demands an “end to sup­port for the remo­val of people inter­cep­ted within the world’s dead­liest mari­time areas” by crea­ting “an inde­pendent search and rescue agen­cy”. This huma­nist focus can be found in the pro­gramme put for­ward by the EELV MEP Yan­nick Jadot. Entit­led “Bien vivre” [Living Well], his list contains a signi­fi­cant chap­ter on cultu­ral rights. “At a time of threats to iden­ti­ty, into­le­rance and a fear the Other, envi­ron­men­ta­lists are keen to make culture a source of social cohe­sion, an expres­sion of diver­si­ty and crea­ti­vi­ty, expe­rience of other­ness, for sha­ring values, friend­ship, goals and enjoyment”.

In Ian Bros­sat’s pro­gramme – top of the “Pour une Europe des gens, pas de l’argent” [For a Europe of people, not money] list – one sen­tence clear­ly sums up the state of mind of the PCF – French Com­mu­nist Par­ty : “A know­ledge of the culture of others is a key fac­tor in brin­ging people toge­ther”. It also sug­gests “a public ser­vice that gua­ran­tees the cultu­ral rights of citi­zens and artists”. As a reac­tion to the repea­ted tra­gic events in the Medi­ter­ra­nean, the PCF wants the Euro­pean Union to redi­rect “Fron­tex towards mari­time rescues”, “huma­ni­ta­rian visas to be issued clo­ser to vul­ne­rable areas” as well as the wide­ning of “refu­gee sta­tus to all those who are for­ced into exile”, the orga­ni­sa­tion of “legal and secure chan­nels” and “the right to mobi­li­ty for all”.

On the far-left, Lutte Ouvrière and its can­di­date Natha­lie Arthaud, there is no men­tion of culture but a slo­gan that could not be clea­rer : “À bas l’Europe-forteresse !” [Down with For­tress Europe!]. For Arlette Laguiller’s suc­ces­sor, “all major eco­no­mic powers were built not only on colo­nial plun­der but also thanks to the work of gene­ra­tions of migrants”. A cut­ting ana­ly­sis wor­thy of consideration.




Ludovic Thomas


Ludovic Tomas


Ludovic Tomas lives in Marseille and is a journalist for Zibeline, an independent cultural magazine in the South-East of France. Formerly a journalist for L’Humanité, until 2014 he worked with Mondomix, a leading world music magazine.

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