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Promoting EU cultural and educational diplomacy in the Philippines

The year 2017 marks a landmark year in EU-Philippines cultural relations since this coming weekend, we will be launching the 20th edition of the European film festival in Shangri-La Plaza, Mandaluyong, Metro Manila, before going to other cities in the Philippines. And what better way to mark this milestone than to feature a fusion of the best of classical and contemporary films from Europe with the finest mix of select Filipino films? Twenty-four films from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom and Norway are showcasing their masterpieces from the enchanting and not so distant past, together with carefully crafted contemporary films.

Throughout the years, Cine Europa has evolved to become a dynamic festival which offers a broad selection of high quality European and Filipino films, giving the audience all around the country the opportunity to enjoy and to appreciate the values and the rich cultural heritage from Europe. Cine Europa was born out of the friendship between the European Union and the Philippines and has now become a buzz word in the film industry as it boasts of more than 45,000 moviegoers and enthusiasts attending the screenings since it started in the country.

Promoting cultural diversity has been one of the main objectives of the European Agenda for Culture since 2007. The EU is also a strong supporter of the 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.

In 2016, for the first time, the EU adopted a “Strategy for international cultural relations” that focuses on advancing cultural cooperation with partner countries across three main strands: supporting culture and education as engines for sustainable social and economic development; promoting intercultural dialogue for peaceful inter-community relations; and reinforcing cooperation on cultural heritage.

In a globalized world, we are convinced that cultural and educational cooperation can counter stereotypes and prejudice by nurturing dialogue, open-mindedness, dignity and mutual respect. Inter-cultural dialogue can help prevent conflicts and foster reconciliation within and between countries. Culture and education can help contribute to address global challenges such as the integration of refugees, countering violent radicalization and the protection of the world’s cultural heritage. Culture and education can also be tools to deliver important social and economic benefits. According to the UNESCO’s Culture for Development Indicators (CDIS), culture contributes between 1.5 and 5.7 percent of GDP in low and middle-income countries, thus reflecting differences in the policy and institutional framework, the level of social participation and education, and the degree of freedom of expression.

Apart from the film festival, this year, the EU delegation in Manila has taken the initiative to organise a series of cultural symposiums to promote intercultural dialogue between the EU and the Philippines. We also recently organized a What’s EUr story essay writing competition with the end in view of involving young people to tell their own experiences, insights and impressions about anything related to the European Union. Most of the stories were about travels to the EU member states and it has been like a journey in Europe through the power of words that touch and strike the senses.

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The EU cultural strategy also includes an educational component through the Erasmus + program whose objective is to promote mobility and inter-university cooperation with partner countries. Between 2014 and 2020, the EU is financing 180,000 scholarships for students and staff involving Europe and other parts of the world. The EU is also supporting the establishment of Erasmus+ alumni groups. Worldwide, EU studies are expected to reach over 250,000 students every year through teaching and outreach activities.

The Erasmus+ programme has evolved over the years and has substantially supported intercultural understanding through co-operation with third countries. This program has greatly contributed to promoting the EU as a center of excellence in learning and research.

For this academic year, the Philippines has the highest number of awardees of Erasmus Mundus scholarships among the ASEAN countries with 37 beneficiaries. The Erasmus+ Program will allow them to pursue MA and PhD programs in different universities across the European continent. Since 2004, more than 200 Pinoy students and lecturers have benefitted from the programm. The scholarship covers air travel to Europe, tuition fees and a monthly living allowance between P55,000 and P138,000.

Like every year, the European Union Delegation to the Philippines is organising a European Higher Education Fair to promote the European Higher education system. The fair will take place on 18 October in Shangri-La Plaza, Mandaluyong. Once again, the EU Delegation will rely on students and alumni to become living testimonials of how European higher education can engage into borderless and immeasurable opportunities.

Culture and education indeed form part of the EU soft diplomacy tools yet their impact is powerful and enormous enough as they not only reach out to the minds but to the hearts of their audiences.  

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(Franz Jessen is the Ambassador of the European Union.)

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