When the prime ministers and presidents of the Council of Europe’s 47 member states contemplate the key challenges for the next half a century, the need for their citizens to live together in peace should top their lists.
There is nothing more basic; nothing more complex. As Europeans, it is part of our everyday reality to live and work with people who do not share our cultural background, our beliefs or even our language, or languages. Diversity has always been a distinctive feature of Europe and always will be. Europe is defined, not just by its geographical borders, but by its common yet diverse cultural values. We must continue to embrace and build on cultural diversity. It has been present in Europe for centuries, it will not disappear – in future it will only grow.
The Council of Europe has just celebrated the 60th anniversary of the European Cultural Convention, which was designed to bring about greater understanding among ‘the peoples of Europe’. Opened for signature on 19 November 1954, less than ten years after the end of the Second World War and in the early stages of the Cold War, its ratification was an important stepping stone for eastern and central European countries wanting to join the Council of Europe. It has therefore played an essential role in creating a wider European community.
The European Cultural Convention was the first European legal instrument to deal with culture and the Council of Europe’s second big convention, after the European Convention on Human Rights. It provides the framework for the Council of Europe’s work on education, youth, culture, heritage and sport, as well as its programmes devoted to the sharing of Europe’s common values. 50 States have ratified the Convention; 50 states have agreed on common parameters on questions of identity, managing diversity and intercultural dialogue; 50 States are committed to the activities carried out across the continent under this vast umbrella.
The Convention promotes the goal of living together, by requiring States to move beyond a purely national agenda to promote the study of the ‘languages, history and civilisation’ of other European countries. Many of the Council of Europe’s programmes have taken this multiple perspective approach; most recently in our e-book on shared histories. At the same time, the Convention privileges Europe’s common civilisation. The Santiago de Compostela Pilgrim route was the first of our 26 thematic cross-border itineraries, linking people of different cultures.
The importance of mobility and the exchange of people identified in the Convention has given birth to our two European Youth Centres in Strasbourg and Budapest, which train some 5,000 young people a year and our European Youth Foundation, which supports activities directly involving over 15,000 young people a year, with an impact on millions more. All activities focus on the Council of Europe’s core values: human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
We have an extensive programme on human rights education and education for democratic citizenship which includes, for instance, activities to make schools a safer place and to combat bullying.
Ethics in sport is an essential part of our common culture that we cannot afford to lose.
Our new convention against match fixing is just the most recent example of the Council of Europe’s work in this field, which also covers combating doping and spectator violence.
At our recent 60th anniversary celebrations in the Egmont Palace, Brussels, we looked at the role of the European Cultural Convention in education in the 21st Century. It was clear that 60 years down the line there were still many challenges. We are now developing a tool to enable people to assess whether they have the basic abilities, skills and knowledge they need to be able to function effectively in a multi-cultural society.
Next year we will focus on combating corruption, fraud and plagiarism in education and on the new opportunities and threats created by digitalisation in culture.
These are just some of our projects in the pipeline to help Europeans live together.
Clearly, the European Cultural Convention’s focus on co-operation and understanding is as pertinent today as it was in 1954, as we face the challenges of a globalised society: new technologies, identity issues, social inclusion, wide-scale migration and the conflicts which still blight Europe, even on her own soil and between the Council of Europe’s own member states.
Over the last 60 years the European Cultural Convention has shown us time and time again that education and culture are the keys to peace.
Tolerance and understanding, respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law: these are values we must learn through education. These are the values at the heart of a democratic culture. Democracies are built on democratic culture. Peace is built on democracy.