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Culture: a force against populism and extremism

In a recent article published by Future Europe in Issue 4: Future’s Past: European Culture in the Age of Digital Innovation, Lars Ebert, Secretary General of Culture Action Europe, a partner of the Cultural Deal for Europe campaign, points out that a divided European Union, combined with alarming electoral outcomes in several Member States, raises concerns ahead of the June 2024 elections.

Lars analyses the recent victories of populists in The Netherlands and Slovakia, which have sent shock waves across Europe. Their success reflects a broader rise in populism worldwide, fueled by anti-establishment and anti-immigrant sentiments, and a growing disaffection for the values of open societies. This underscores the importance of issues related to cultural preservation and identity, highlighting the intricate relationship between culture and politics.

Recent discussions on this overlap have focused on the need to decolonize the current cultural model, acknowledging that cultural and artistic achievements have often come at the cost of exploitation and suppression. In this regard, Lars’ article invites us to consider what cultural agency means today. Culture isn’t just about privileged artists and leisure time for a minority but is crucial for human meaning-making, democratic agency, and ultimately, survival.

Research shows that cultural exposure leads to better, healthier, and longer lives, benefiting both individuals and communities. Increased engagement in cultural activities fosters democratic agency, making citizens feel heard and contributing to social cohesion and the creation of sustainable, democratic social structures.

However, cultural exposure is just the beginning. Cultural participation takes various forms, from better access to cultural offerings to active citizen involvement in cultural events and co-creation of artistic processes. To achieve this, 

We need to act now to introduce new cultural policies, for instance with an appropriately empowered and funded EU Commissioner for Culture, and a related, clear role for culture in all other policy fields. In other words, we need a Cultural Deal for Europe. Just like the Green Deal was needed to address climate change and the loss of biodiversity, an overarching Cultural Deal is needed to address the rise of populism and threats to democratic structures, to allow us to remain human as we face the development of artificial intelligence, and to ensure that we ‘leave none behind’ in the context of ever harsher social realities.

Culture Action Europe remains a fierce advocate for a Cultural Deal for Europe. The #CulturalDealEU campaign has shown how successful the collective agency of the cultural and creative sectors of Europe can be. In a recent Cultural Deal for Europe-EP elections open letter addressed to current and future MEPs, and to members of European political parties we speak out about the urgency of our demands. As European elections approach, it is now imperative for political parties to choose their priorities wisely.