Walter Zampieri, Head the unit for culture policy and intercultural dialogue at the European Commission, talks in the interview about the policy background of "European 'Houses' of Culture", what the long term vision of the project is - and why he is convinced that "houses" is an aptly chosen term for this project.
Watch the full interview on the EUNIC Global YouTube channel.
To begin broadly: Culture and international relations – what is the added value?
It took us some time actually to realise what culture can do for a society, what it can do for the economy, what it can do for the people involved and what it can do for international relations. I believe there is a specific contribution that culture can make, that is, improving international cultural relations. It took us also some time to realise what could be the role of the European Union in all of this, because of course, culture is a competence of the member states and they are rightly proud of their culture and they have their own means of promoting it abroad.
And what can therefore be the EU’s role?
We have seen that the European Union can be very useful in providing a platform for exchanges, a platform for cooperation, a platform for helping cultural operators and artists to come together and to do something new together.
European ‘Houses’ of Culture: How did the project come about?
In effect this is also a proposal we put forward in our Joint Communication on international cultural relations, the joint communication of the European Commission and the High Representative. It was a very well received by the European Parliament. The Parliament took up this idea and they put it in as a budgetary remark in the budget of the European Union. This got accepted by the member states at the Council of the EU. So it’s a case of several people contributing to the implementation of this idea. We are certainly very grateful for the role of the Parliament in that.
What precisely was the role of the European Parliament?
Well, European Houses of Culture certainly wasn’t something that was imposed by the European Commission, or anybody else. So yes, the fact that it comes from the Parliament gives it some legitimacy. The fact that is was also approved by the member states at the Council of the EU shows that it has the backing of the member states and the Commission and the European External Action Service. We are more than happy to implement the project.
Why was EUNIC chosen as a partner?
Well, EUNIC is absolutely the natural partner for this project. We have been working with EUNIC for quite some time, within Europe and as a network. We are very well aware of the potential of this network and as I’ve said, as culture is a competency of the member states, the first interlocutor for us is to work with the organisation of the national cultural institutes.
What is the project’s long term vision?
This is a prepatory action. The sense of a prepatory action is to prepare the ground for further proposals; it shouldn’t stop there. In our view this model – these models, let me use the plural – the models for cooperation we have identified through this project could serve as a basis for the implementation of the next Creative Europe Programme. As you know, the Creative Europe Programme will as of 2021, if there is an agreement between the legislators, have an international dimension. Again we think, EUNIC and the national cultural institutes are best placed to be our partners in this venture.
Do you have a favourite ‘house’?
That is a difficult question because I am really open and I expect to be surprised by the amount of things that can be done, and also by the fact that undoubtedly there are several models. One thing is what they do in Washington, another thing is what can be done in Moscow, completely different things to what you can do in Senegal or Egypt. But the key thing is that there should really be close cooperation at a strategic level between the cultural institutes, the EU Delegations, the embassies, and the local stakeholders which should be associated as much as possible.
Finally, why the term ‘houses’?
That was the original idea because the term ‘house’ gives you the idea that something exists, something which is solid, something on which you can rely and that gives you a roof. It’s a very catchy title and why not? You know it is a metaphor, a metaphor that has some history, no? It’s a common house, Europe is our common house and our idea of cultural policy is to create a space for cooperation. This is a space, a house, where everybody is welcome. It’s an aptly chosen term.
Walter Zampieri is Head of Unit, Cultural Diversity and Innovation at DG Education, Youth, Sport and Culture at the European Commission. Before joining the European Commission, Walter Zampieri was Assistant Professor at University of Central Florida and Visiting Professor, Lecturer at the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts. He holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Connecticut and attended University of Padua, Italy. He has been following EUNIC's work very closely for the past years, is one of the authors of the "Joint Communication: Towards an EU strategy for international cultural relations" (find it here), and has led on the conception of the new EUNIC project, "European 'Houses' of Culture".