28 January 2003
Globalisation and sustainable development
Committee on Culture, Science and Education
Rapporteur: Mr J. Legendre, France, EDG
The Rapporteur of the Committee on Culture, Science and Education agrees with the Rapporteur of the Committee on the Environment, Agriculture and Local and Regional Affairs that globalisation is now far more than a purely economic phenomenon and is affecting all aspects of modern life, including culture and the environment. We believe that sustainable human development should be at the heart of the world order, which should not be based on purely commercial concerns influenced largely by financial considerations.
Culture should be a key part of the concept of sustainable human development, since it concerns the values, traditions, heritage, knowledge and creativity without which any kind of human development is unthinkable. It entails education and communication, two of the key factors in our present-day information-based and knowledge-based society.
If culture is a vital factor in the development of society, it is thanks to its extraordinary diversity, which is a reflection of the unique value of each individual, each minority, each region and each people.
The development of the new technologies, globalisation and the liberalisation of trade policies have thrown up unprecedented opportunities for even the smallest cultures to express themselves and develop, reach a wider public, compare themselves with one another and open up to the rest of the world. This is an extraordinary opportunity for diversity to flourish. And yet the prevailing trend is in the opposite direction, towards the impoverishment of cultural life as a result of its homogenisation for reasons of profitability and purely commercial logic. The whole world is increasingly listening to the same music, reading the same books and watching the same films on television and in the cinema, produced by the same handful of multinational giants. Globalisation in the cultural field, rather than being a finely-woven web of fruitful interaction, has, so far, been a massive flow in one direction. This is compounded by an increasingly deep divide between those who can afford computer facilities for educational and research purposes and those who cannot (see Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1586(2002) on the digital divide and education).
All this stems from the fact that cultural property is increasingly considered as a mere commercial commodity. This trend is in the process of becoming institutionalised under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which aims to introduce a completely free market for trade in services. Under the Agreement, all forms of artistic expression count as services. According to the schedule drawn up, member states must make initial liberalisation offers in the various service sectors by 31 March 2003 at the latest, and negotiations will continue until the end of the current round in January 2005. Although countries may refrain from asking for commitments in cultural fields, pressure can be exerted bilaterally and multilaterally in order to obtain such commitments.
The cultural and communication industries are currently among the largest generators of revenue and jobs and can therefore readily serve as a pretext for taking commercialisation in this field to extremes, supposedly for sustainable development purposes.
We believe that cultural products - which reflect an identity, enshrine values and embody meaning - cannot and should not be treated as merchandise. Equally, it is unacceptable that financial profit considerations should outweigh the benefits to individuals and society of fair access to a multitude of sources of information and knowledge.
The argument that each individual should be able to express himself or herself freely, create, educate himself or herself and take part in cultural life in the broad sense is just as important as the commercial argument. It is not a question of one or other argument prevailing, but of striking a balance and ensuring that the two approaches complement each other.
It is for this reason that the international community must give itself the means to defend cultural and linguistic diversity in the same way as it defends biodiversity.
The Council of Europe has already produced a number of legal instruments for promoting cultural diversity at European level, such as the European Convention on Transfrontier Television, the Eurimages Fund and the European Convention on Cinematographic Co-production. It is outrageous that the right to join the WTO should recently have been made conditional, in certain cases, on the applicants’ not signing these instruments, on the grounds that they conflict potentially with the principles of the new trade system.
The Council of Europe played a pioneering role in the face of these new challenges, and in December 2000 the Committee of Ministers adopted a Declaration on cultural diversity, which became the first international instrument on the subject. It was followed by the Cotonou Declaration on cultural diversity, adopted by the Cultural Affairs Ministers of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (International Organisation for the French-speaking World) in June 2001. The Beirut Declaration of October 2002 by the heads of state and government of countries sharing the French language was also largely dedicated to the protection of linguistic and cultural policies. In November 2001 Unesco adopted the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity.
These documents are very important politically, but they are not legally binding. In our view, they cannot stand up to the legal instruments set up in this connection by the WTO.
Various initiatives are in progress with a view to drawing up an international legal instrument that protects cultural diversity. Examples are the Quebec French Governmental Working Group on Cultural Diversity and the discussions under way in Unesco. It is also necessary to keep abreast of the activities of the International Network on Cultural Policy (INCP), which is drafting a convention on cultural diversity. A final draft could be submitted at the INCP’s next ministerial meeting in Croatia in October 2003.
Unesco is clearly the most appropriate framework for the current discussions. The Council of Europe should also, through its competent bodies, become more closely and more widely involved in the discussions. One of the subordinate bodies of the Council of Europe Steering Committee on the Mass Media (CDMM) recently commissioned a study of the draft instrument prepared by the INCP, which analyses the text from the point of view of the media aspects. The issue is also on the agenda of the Steering Committee for Higher Education and Research and will be the subject of a conference on higher education and GATS in Oslo in May 2003.
Lastly, the Committee on Culture, Science and Education would like to table an amendment to the draft resolution:
- insert, after paragraph 20.f, a new sub-paragraph reading as follows: “Undertake to support and promote cultural and linguistic diversity as a vital factor in sustainable human development and ensure, through an international legal instrument, that cultural property is not treated merely as merchandise in multilateral trade agreements”.
Reporting Committee: Committee on the Environment, Agriculture and Local and Regional Affairs
Committee for opinion: Committee on Culture, Science and Education
Reference to committee: Doc. 9085 and Reference No. 2611 of 22 May 2001
Opinion approved by the committee on 28 January 2003
Secretariat of the committee: Mr Grayson, Mr Ary, Mrs Theophilova-Permaul