New Europe sat down with EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Tibor Navracsics, during the G7 cultural summit in Florence to discuss the role of culture in today’s Europe.

New Europe: Do you think we can fight populism with culture and preserve the ideas of the Treaty of Rome for a single Europe?

Tibor Navracsics: Culture contributes to a more sophisticated way of life because it is based on our cultural heritage and the best traditions of our European identity. That’s why I think it can contribute to overcome populism and the liabilities of a mass society. Culture makes us more noble and sophisticated. For this reason, I think Europe’s future is founded on cultural heritage which is the core of the EU. Culture is a non-verbal language which links us together and which makes us a community on this continent.

What are your thoughts about how, thanks to culture, we can fight populism?

Populism is always about the masses and it’s about reflex and emotions. Therefore, culture can make these emotions more sophisticated.

Which actions will support this plan?

Probably the most important initiative will be the 2018 European year of cultural heritage. This is very important because we will be able to show off our treasures and discuss the past and the future of the EU community based on cultural heritage. It will also be a broad initiative based on local activities, but we will have some flagship events. For instance, one initiative, which was mentioned by the Major of Florence Dario Nardella is to build a network of European capitals of culture. Next year, it will be a good occasion to have the summit of the former European capitals of culture and launch the network.

What about an international EU cultural strategy?

I have an important ally within the EU Executive. Federica Mogherini [High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy] made an important contribution to drafting the international cultural plan. When we, in the EU Commission, put together this strategic document we emphasised some main aspects of culture in our international relations.

The first is culture as a powerful engine of economic growth. This is one of the main pillars of the EU economy in worldwide competition and we can explore all the opportunities of cultural heritage to invest in future. We can develop a brand new cutting-edge strategy for economic development that can also respond to societal challenges.

The second is culture as a platform for intercultural dialogue. Italy is probably the most appropriate scene for this dialogue. It is also important to emphasise the external side of the EU cultural strategy because the EU is a soft power itself – we haven’t got any army or police so far.

All we have is culture and the achievements of our cultural heritage. If we want to have a continuous discussion and interaction with the other countries, we have to base our dialogue and communication on these important topics. Culture is not only one of the policy fields, but it is probably the most strategic one of the future EU policies.

Is the collaboration between public and private important in this context?

Yes. It is very important because there is a natural collaboration between businesses and the protection of cultural heritage. There is collaboration between tourism and culture. For instance, if our museums are empty, we need to resume the cultural tourism that is a powerful tool to fill our museums with life and visitors.

What about EU funding to support culture? What is your strategy?

We have the Creative Europe programme which is very successful and can fund local, national and cross-border activities. We also have to concentrate now on broadening the profile of a creative Europe with more small-scale projects. The problem is that we have some rather big projects, which are very meaningful and important, but those NGOs or creative communities at the local level sometimes miss out on the proper funding for their activities. For this reason, we are thinking about how to broaden the programme profile.

How can we educate EU citizens about culture? Sometimes people visit Florence, Rome or Venice without adequate preparation?

There are very important educational initiatives in the member states about how to promote cultural skills, especially in Italy, which is a very big cultural power. This can make a big contribution to this crucial matter.