The Anna Lindh Mediterranean Forum took place in Marseille from 4 – 7 April. 1,500 representatives of civil society, from 44 countries from across the Mediterranean and Europe, provided a unique insight into cultural issues currently at stake in the region.
The gathering brought together youth leaders, cultural operators, as well as parliamentarians and elected officials in guided spaces for interaction, exchange and debate. Top of the discussion was why the Barcelona Process (begun in 1995), and other instruments since (for example the EuroMed partnership and the European Neighbourhood Policy), have failed to meet expectations in the region and, what are the current challenges post- Arab spring and in light of the un-relenting economic crisis facing southern Europe.

With unrest and economic concerns on both sides of the Mediterranean there is a clear need for some pragmatic solutions. The Anna Lindh Network announced in the official closing session of the Forum some of the recommendations that will be followed through in the coming years including: an Annual Week of the Mediterranean, where voices and joint actions of citizens, parliaments, local authorities and civil society will be shared and; sustainable action for Syria (although it was unclear what his might be).

Mobility was a key point raised throughout many of the workshops and, it was revealing to see how many civil organisations (both belonging to the Anna Lindh network and present at the Forum) are campaigning for free movement across borders. Anna Lindh networks across the region agreed on the urgent need for ad-hoc visas for cultural leaders working across the region but ART-idea suggests that much more could and should be done to support mobility.

Clearly, many countries operate without a legal base for culture. Countries in the region should therefore be encouraged to develop and agree a national cultural policy that enshrines the principals of ‘freedom of expression’ and ‘freedom of movement’. If national networks can get sufficient support for this, the legal frameworks needed to instil these principals will be more easily obtained. The Council of Europe’s Cultural Policy Review Programme is a model in this respect.

Building a national cultural policy needs to start at the grassroots and the Anna Lindh network has the ability to harness support for such a policy review model. As André Azoulay, President of the Anna Lindh Euro-Mediterranean Foundation for the Dialogue Between Cultures said: “The potential of the region’s abundant youthful energy and dynamism, coupled with its entrepreneurial and innovative spirit, is enormous. We need to address the issues which have undermined previous attempts at building a union for the peoples of the Mediterranean. Top-down solutions will not work. Mediterranean partnership must be for the citizens, from the citizens and to the citizens.”

Regarding the need to provide evidence and arguments that culture counts, there was plenty calls for more research. In the session on ‘Arts for Change’ one participant suggested that Anna Lindh compile a book of 100 success stories to prove the cultural sector’s capacity for positive change. ART-idea supports this idea and is itself currently developing a project (CAPTURE) to gather empirical evidence that might support future funding of culture, as a resource in situations of conflict. Sharing case studies might not be enough but, sharing results and analysing them in quantifiable terms may be a useful tool for the sector.

As a final observation, we should not overlook the ‘speed of change’. It was acknowledged, in several debates that momentum from the Arab Spring is being lost as young people come across obstacles to start businesses, sell their goods or move their ideas across borders. At the same time in Europe we are seeing a new change in pace as long established businesses struggle and new short term companies rise up, expand quickly and then disappear. In short, the speed of start-ups and melt-downs has changed and, for all of us interested in supporting small and medium size creative businesses, we have to recognise that our rate of response to support needs in the sector is also going to be challenged.