France/Institut français/cultural diplomacy
A few days ago Parliament adopted the Act creating the Institut français, the agency which from now on will be the hallmark of our cultural diplomacy in the world. This is part of a sweeping reform of our “diplomacy of influence”, the most important carried out in France for decades. (…)
Why reform cultural diplomacy? I believe the answer is simple. We should have carried out this reform years ago! For years it had been called for by arts professionals and members of Parliament from both Left and Right! Everyone backed off in the face of the difficulty! Because it’s always easier to make do with the inherited status quo than overturn it!
A reform was necessary because, surely it’s obvious, culture and knowledge play a more decisive role than ever in the globalized world! We mustn’t close our eyes to what’s happening: today there’s a “soft-power” battle. As both the major Western democracies and emerging powers know, if they want to count in tomorrow’s world they’ve got to be able to project their cultural content, influence the ideas agenda, promote their language and attract future elites to their schools and universities. They know that a great nation, as Hugo said, isn’t just a powerful army and vast territory, but is capable of winning hearts and minds too.
France, who was the first intuitively to feel the need for cultural diplomacy, was duty-bound to deliver. It was urgent for her to modernize her diplomacy of influence in order to make it more effective and raise its profile. I have opted for a reform which, I believe, is ambitious and, at the same time, progressive and controlled. Some think it goes too far. Others, not far enough. That, for me, means it’s a good reform, marked by the concern to take into account all the imperatives of our external policy.
So at the heart of the reform, there’s the creation of an external cultural agency. This cultural agency breaks new ground for four reasons:
1. – It’s a more coherent instrument with a higher profile. The agency will draw on 143 French cultural centres abroad (extended thanks to their merger with embassy cultural services), which will be its intermediaries and act under its name, i.e. “Institut français”; from now on, all French cultural diplomacy will operate in the world under one name, one label, which is essential in the globalization era. The agency in Paris and the cultural centres abroad will maintain a constant working relationship, on scheduling activities and managing staff and budgets.
In ten or so posts, we will go further and experiment by legally linking the network to the agency, given that they must, in any case, be integrated.
2. – It has a broader remit. The future agency will take over the tasks of the CulturesFrance association, which it replaces. So it will promote our artists and cultural content (cinema, books and performing and visual arts). But it will also develop new missions. First of all, its fundamental mission will be to promote the French language. It will also disseminate our country’s ideas, knowledge and scientific culture and ensure that France plays a more active role in the great debates shaking the world. Finally, it will train those involved in France’s external cultural policy.
3. – The agency will have a different status from its predecessors. The Institut français will be an établissement public industriel et commercial [public agency permitted to engage in commercial activities] giving it greater managerial flexibility and allowing it to develop in a business environment, a status which, at the same time, anchors the operator to the public sphere, since CulturesFrance, let’s not forget, was an association [not-for-profit organization].
4. – The agency will bring together in a stronger partnership all those involved in our external cultural policy, including the Ministry of Culture, major cultural establishments, local authorities and representatives of the cultural industries, audiovisual sector and digital cultures. Everyone will have their place in the agency’s governing structures. This will give it its legitimacy. A new partnership will be established with the Alliance française network, which completes and extends that of the Institut français. (…)./.
¹ 3-day meeting attended by over 2,000 people involved in France’s external action in the fields of culture, economy, development, research and education, jointly organized by two French Foreign and European Affairs Ministry directorates.