Senén Florensa

Director-General of the European Institute of the Mediterranean

The European Parliament has declared 2008 European Year of Intercultural Dialogue, and the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Euro-Med countries, Euro-Mediterranean Year of Dialogue between Cultures. It is a symbolic element that, however, can be an opportunity to activate cultural and social policies that promote Euro-Mediterranean dialogue. The fact that the European Union is taking up again and with new impetus the Barcelona Process initiated at the Euro-Mediterranean Conference in 1995 is good news for Mediterranean partners. It is worth highlighting that the Commission and all member countries of the Barcelona Process’ deep involvement is not simply a question of courtesy or of solidarity with countries in the South. It is rather the desire for stability and economic growth in the Mediterranean that so interests the coastal Europeans, as well as the rest of the European Union.

This is even more evident concerning the more sensitive issues of the Mediterranean agenda: migration flux, or problems caused by cultural conflict, such as the caricatures crisis. It is about phenomena whose epicentre lies in Europe and in the Mediterranean, but which has an impact throughout the world. Speaking about cultural dialogue is always difficult, because historical, religious and political memories create different readings loaded with differing reasons, and also because we base ourselves more on stereotypes than actual knowledge of the changing reality of the societies concerned. However, the instrumental nature of the dialogue will be more effective if actions are carried out that can help to capture the necessary elements to provide a fuller understanding of civilisations and cultures: creative bridges that writers, artists, historians, philosophers and anthropologists can build with rich and thought-provoking imaginary.

For this reason, the dossier that we are presenting of Quaderns de la Mediterrània, under the auspices of Euromed, has as its goal to enable outstanding and intellectual voices from European Union countries and from the south coast of the Mediterranean to bring us their knowledge, sensitivity and some instrumental elements, with the aim of contributing effectively to intercultural dialogue between Europe and the Mediterranean. In recent years, the European Union is becoming evermore aware of the importance of culture and the need to promote intercultural dialogue between different countries and societies that make up the Euro-Mediterranean area. One of the main instruments is the Anna Lindh Euro-Mediterranean Foundation for the Dialogue between Cultures, and the implementation of the EuroMed Audiovisual, EuroMed Heritage, EuroMed Information and Communication, EuroMed Youth and, recently, EuroMed Gender programmes. Of course, in addition to the desire to achieve this, major financial involvement is necessary.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the problems are clearly identified and that there is the intention of working with increased intercultural awareness between Mediterranean partners. This means an important role for other bilateral and multilateral actions, as much at governmental level, as in civil society. Unfortunately, in social modernisation processes, effects are not calculated in years, but in generations. Working in the field of development and social promotion, we realise that concrete systems and infrastructure are less rigid and easier to modernise than mentalities. To achieve social modernisation, a much more intense, deep and continuous effort is required. To help from the outside money is needed; however, technical assistance, personalised help on the ground, government, and above all civil society involvement are all necessary.

On 28 and 29 May 2008, the EuroMed Ministerial Conference will take place. One of its main objectives is to reinforce countries’ abilities in the field of cultural expression and access to its diverse forms, with the goal of establishing more balanced cultural exchanges. In their strategic debates, ministers can explore all dimensions of cooperation (regional, bilateral, between the countries of the South), including direct cooperation between Euro-Mediterranean individual partners. The aim is to boost cultural operators in partner countries, reinforcing its programmes and initiatives, and resolving structural imbalances. On the other hand, this Ministerial Conference offers a real opportunity in 2008 for society to see cultural exchanges and associated activities as a priority in this area. Consequently, we should congratulate ourselves on having this opportunity to bring the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership closer to the people of the region.