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COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS BRINGS CULTURAL DIVERSITY TO EUROPEAN DEBATE

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Tomorrow's Europe must be an 'inclusive club' that welcomes and recognises all cultures that live here. Only then w...
Tomorrow's Europe must be an 'inclusive club' that welcomes and recognises all cultures that live here. Only then will the consolidation of the European Union be complete.

This was the conclusion of a special debate at the Committee of the Regions which brought together regional politicians with cultural thinkers from across the European Union, to examine how a Europe of cultures will interact with its deepening economic and political union.

Opening the discussion at the committee's 27th plenary session on

13 January, COR president Manfred Dammeyer reminded the audience that 'in Europe's recent history minorities have been ignored, or even forgotten. They have been often compromised and persecuted. This drives our will to have more Europe, more democracy and greater respect for human rights. Our aim is to build a Europe of subsidiarity and diversity, where regional and local authorities welcome cultural communities and minority groups as fellow citizens.'

The roundtable discussion was led by renowned musician and humanist, Lord Menuhin, who brought together a panel of leading cultural figures, who examined the meaning of culture in today's Europe and its contribution to European construction. The debate was followed by a concert of contemporary cross-cultural music staged by Lord Menuhin in the presence of Queen Fabiola of Belgium.

Lord Menuhin has established the Assembly of the Cultures of Europe (ACE) to bring the cultural question into the European political debate.

During the roundtable, chaired by the former president of the COR, the Catalan Pasqual Maragall, he voiced his enthusiasm for giving all Europe's cultures a consultative voice in the European policy arena - an area where the COR can potentially lend its support. 'When all cultural groups are given the opportunity to have their voice heard in the European discussion, then subsidiarity will have achieved its full potential,' he commented.

Highlights of the discussion featured insight from Juan de Dios Ramirez, representative of the Spanish gypsy community; François Grin, from the European Centre for Minority Issues; and Robert Laffont, representative for the Occitan community (F); and COR co-rapporteurs on the Committee's Culture 2000 opinion - José María Munoa Ganuza, COR Member and Commissioner of the President of the Basque Government (PPE) and Christina Tallberg, chairperson of the Stockholm County Council and COR Member (PSE).

French philosopher Michel Serres warned regional and local politicians not to think of Europe's future exclusively in terms of frontiers and territorial limits. 'Culture today recognises no borders. Tomorrow's Europe will stretch across the perpetual ebb and flow of its cultural fault lines.'

In its conclusions, the panel called for the concept of culture and cultural boundaries to be expressed in a new way. Some of the more striking statements included:

* A culture cannot live in the past, nor can it live on its own. Without interaction with otherideas and cultures in today's world it will die.

* European society must listen to the voice of each culture represented in its space, including the 'new minorities' such as the disabled, and the economically disadvantaged.

* As the Union opens, today's existing borders should be transformed from barriers to 'cooperation zones', where jobs, and community services flow across to benefit both cultures.

* We must strive to build a Europe of roots, not only of concrete and borders.

* As the information society becomes a part of our everyday life, we should no longer see culture as a territorial concept but as an exchange of relationships.

* The question is not 'the protection of minorities', but the creating an economically and politically open world in which Europe's minority cultures can grow stronger.

* Culture is not a question of borders, it is a centre - of interests and exchanges of views.

Linguistic and cultural diversity is increasingly being seen as an advantage by many people, especially the young.

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