The new soft power player: people

Soft power is associated with nation states or groupings of states.  The “West’s ” soft power played a key role in ending the Cold War according to its proponents.  The more adventurous supporters go further: the “Beatles and demin” were more powerful than economic collapse and missiles.

The USA has soft power; the EU is trying to think of its soft power, China is embarking on a major soft power drive.

Nowadays the term soft power is used indiscriminately. Rather like public diplomacy a few years ago. It has become the fashion in thinking circles.

The term itself embodies two very opposite characteristics. Soft.. nice the cuddly.  The arts, schools, universities, academics talking to each other, consumer goodies.  It is extended into the universal values arena:  political groupings which accept defeat and opposition; democracy, religious freedom etc.

Power is overlooked.  Power is hard by definition.  This is not the area of mutual understanding and awareness to use another universal phrase.

Power means convincing others to do what you want them to do.. and which they are not doing now.

“Soft power is no power” is a common riposte from the hard powerists (trade, military, the world of sanctions, boycotts, leading up to invasions and conflict).  There is very little serious evaluation of whether soft power really works.  Lots of theory; lots of anecdotes, lots of belief and an increasing number of indices (see my earlier articles and here).  But where’s the evidence?  I’ll explore this in the next article in this series.

But there is a new soft power on the block:  people,  individual people.  It is likely that the online digital activism of and others will block the relatively secretly organised international agreement on internet control:  ACTA.

Nellie Kroes, the European Commissioner says:

“We have recently seen how many thousands of people are willing to protest against rules which they see as constraining the openness and innovation of the internet. This is a strong new political voice,” Kroes said in a speech at the Re:publica conference in Berlin. “And as a force for openness, I welcome it, even if I do not always agree with everything it says on every subject.”

“We are now likely to be in a world without [the stalled US act] SOPA and without ACTA. Now we need to find solutions to make the internet a place of freedom, openness, and innovation fit for all citizens, not just for the techno avant-garde,” Kroes continued.

It was not many thousands. It was millions.  from many countries.   Several governments are going to be seriously angry at the ending of ACTA.   Soft power in the hands of people.  Do I hear democracy by citizens rather than democracy by vested interests?


Stand up for Culture in the EU

” With Europe currently facing serious social and economic difficulties, it is up to the key players in our cultural life and the political decision makers to reaffirm that culture lies at the heart of Europe’s construction and must not be sacrificed”

A ringing endorsement of the role of culture indeed.  Surely the preamble to a manifesto from the arts world?  Or the latest declaration from the We are More campaign which is lobbying hard for 100,000 signatures on its petition for a larger culture budget in the EU.

The fine sounding words, the call to action, comes from culture and arts ministers.  Led by Frederic Mitterand, French Culture Minister, twenty arts ministers (plus a Business Minister from the UK doing things differently as usual) and the European Commissioner for Culture, (Mrs Androulla Vassiliou) have put their names to a tenpoint manifesto ” A Decalogue for Europe of Culture”.

Mitterand announced the idea of a statement just before the Deauville G8 summit in May 2011 which explains, perhaps, why he leads instead of the EC or the EU Presidency.  The current EU presidency is held by the Danes and they have not signed (along with Slovakia, Netherlands, Poland and Sweden).

The declaration was published as two adverts (English and French) in the International Herald Tribune.  A very strange choice. I haven’t seen it yet in any other newspaper.   The Decalogue is at the end of this post (and a Scibed copy is here )   A French version is here on M Mitterand’s website.

So what can we see in the Decalogue?  Several statements from the University of the Bleeding Obvious: “Europe of culture embodies the values of democracy in all the nations of the EU”: although perhaps less so in Hungary at the moment. “Promotes access for all” ,  ” lobbies for the reinforcement of school curricula”. Fine words.

The ten clauses get longer and longer as they move beyond high sounding ideals and come down to earth with practical issues. Some of these might cause problems for ministers so I detect the hand of advisers and lawyers!

Tucked away in the declaration are several less appealing views.  “All appropriate measures against the threats of piracy” rings alarm bells as the  secret ACTA process gathers pace but hopefully the European Parliament will put a stop to this.

A leaf is taken from the Chinese vocabulary when talking about promoting innovations and the need to ” guarantee their harmonious development protected from any commercial monopoly”.  As in China “harmony “seems to be used as a code for “don’t rock our boat”. Given the recent French court decision against Google Maps this does not look a promising statement.  Its also redolent of the narrow views in the second half of the declaration that the artistic opportunities of digital revolution take second place to matters of financial and legal challenges.  Very defensive.

The final clause seems out of place: simply confirming the EC’s decision to merge the Culture and Media budgets. This focus on an adminstrative step fails to remind the EC to place culture as a mainstream part of all its activities.  Culture is noticeably lacking in virtually every other programme of the proposed budget from 2014.

Of course many of the ministers making the declaration are presiding over reducing culture budgets.   They do need our support for making such an endorsement of the role of culture in today’s European Union.

The test of whether this is indeed an action document or simply a piece of PR (visibility without responsibility) will come when they ensure that their countries sign up to the increased budget for culture in the EU’s spending plans for 2014 onwards.  After this declaration they cannot go back now.   To remind them of their commitment sign the “We are more” petition now.

Here is the Decalogue for Europe of Culture:

With Europe currently facing serious social and economic difficulties, it is up to the key players in our cultural life and the political decision makers to reaffirm that culture lies at the heart of Europe’s construction and must not be sacrificed. The European Commission’s Education and Culture DG and 22 EU Ministers have approved a joint declaration: the Decalogue for Europe of Culture.   (signed F Mitterand, French Minister of Culture).

1.   Europe of culture embodies the values of democracy in all the nations of the EU.

2.  Europe of culture contributes to the affirmation of the European identity in all its diversity and to the flourishing of the arts and languages from which its richness is derived.

3.  Europe of culture ensures absolute freedom of creation across all its elements and events.

4.  Europe of culture promotes access for all, without distinction in terms of gender, age, origin, health or social status, to intellectual works, expressions of art, and the tangible and intangible cultural heritage.

5.  Europe of culture protects the legitimate right of creators and authors to fair remuneration and guarantees this by means of all appropriate meaures against the threats of piracy, fraud, theft and abusive use to which they might be exposed.

6.  Europe of culture encourages the circulation and exhibition of works both within the EU and beyond its borders, and ensures the legal and financial compliance of the actions of the various cultural contributors who organise and promote this.

7. Europe of culture establishes good rules of economic governance for the art and cultural industries market, within a spirit of complete transparency. It takes part in the development of innovations which interest the public authorities and private initiatives, in order to guarantee their harmonious development protected from any commercial monopoly.

8.  Europe of culture addresses the technological, financial and legal challenges brought about by the digital revolution fro the gathering and transmission of works and for the flourishing of new forms of artistic expression.

9. Europe of culture lobbies for the reinforcement of school curricula, teaching methods and procedures for artistic education and the training of creative artists.

10.  By emphasising that creation, art and beauty constitute a fundamental investment in the future which creates not only individual but also collective well-being in the form of employment, Europe of culture commits the European Union to consolidation of the budgets for culture and media programmes in order to meet the needs and aspirations of Europeans.


Signed by the Culture  Ministers of Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Spain.  And the French-speaking community of Belgium, the UK Business Ministry and the EC’s Commissioner for Culture, Media, Education , Youth and Sport.