The Implementation of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions in EU External Relations

Jan Loisen


The successful conclusion and adoption by nearly all United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) members of the 2005 Convention on the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions (the UNESCO Convention or the Convention) introduced a new chapter in the perennial disputes over cultural trade (VanGrasstek, 2006). Against the background of continuing trade liberalisation talks in the Doha Development Round of the World Trade Organization (WTO), high hopes emerged, with actors seeking a firm recognition of cultural concerns in future international relations and cooperation. The UNESCO Convention sets forth a series of principles and provisions, amply discussed in the literature (e.g. Craufurd Smith, 2007a; Graber, 2006; Obuljen and Smiers, 2006; Richieri Hanania, 2014; von Schorlemer and Stoll, 2012), which may contribute to mitigating long-standing tensions in ideas, interests and institutions related to trade and culture.

Implementation of these principles and provisions is another matter, however. This chapter investigates how the European Union (the EU or the Union), one of the main supporters of the UNESCO Convention, has dealt with the challenge of translating the spirit and provisions of the Convention into practice. The protection and promotion of cultural diversity is a horizontal concern, relevant to diverse policy domains, which are discussed in various chapters in this volume. This chapter focuses on the implementation of the Convention in the EU's external relations, explicitly dealing with the complex and ambivalent balancing act of reconciling economic and cultural aspects of cultural cooperation and trade. The core aim of the chapter, based on literature study and document analysis, is to gain insight into the process of the EU's implementation of the Convention in external relations where partners' cultural and economic interests meet (or clash); identify the position and arguments of stakeholders involved; and analyse whether implementation and regulatory practice responds to the high hopes of finding a balance between cultural and economic concerns.

The chapter begins with a discussion of the relevant framework and division of competences concerning the inclusion of cultural diversity objectives in EU external relations, also touching upon trade. Whereas further developments in the multilateral trade forum appear unlikely, at least in the short term, attention is given to the concrete EU practice of negotiating cultural cooperation agreements with third parties. The analysis of the Protocol on cultural cooperation with Korea especially, provides details on the practice of implementing the Convention and the position of stakeholders involved. Its outcome appears ambivalent. On the one hand, the EU has genuinely engaged in exploring paths to implement the UNESCO Convention and develop a new cultural pillar of global governance. On the other hand, diverging ideas and interests among stakeholders, including those within the EU, remain and may be exacerbated in upcoming cultural trade deliberations.

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