The cultural dimension in its international relations is of great importance to Flanders. The Flemish cultural diplomacy:
- supports the cultural sector and creative industries in their international ambitions and networking where useful, always aiming at promoting cooperation and exchange,
- enhances the international visibility and reputation of Flanders through the arts and heritage sector,
- considers culture as a bearer of values and believes in the international relations of Flanders and the European Union,
- fosters mutual understanding and trust in the relations with foreign countries.
The Department of Foreign Affairs acts as bridge between the broad cultural field and the diplomatic network of the Government of Flanders. It supports specific projects or initiatives abroad either representing the shared interests of the cultural sector and the government, or by means of exchange of ideas, values or traditions, fostering relations with other countries. For each of these cases the department consults with other entities such as the Department of Culture, Youth and Media, Tourism Flanders and Flanders Investment & Trade.
In the case of promotion through cultural events, the Ministry for Culture is consulted (and, when relevant, also other government bodies such as Flanders Investment and Trade and Toerisme Vlaanderen are implied).
Flanders has a network of diplomatic Flemish Representations: in the Netherlands, France (also competent for UNESCO, OECD, Council of Europe), the UK (also competent for EWRB), Germany, Austria (also competent for Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and the Slovak Republic), the USA, Poland (also competent for the Baltic States), Southern Africa (South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi and Swaziland), Spain, and the multilateral organisations based in Geneva (WTO, WHO, UNAIDS, ILO), and the European Union. In 2019, a new Flemish Representation in Rome will be installed.
Under certain conditions, these Flemish Representations can support or set up cultural events with funding provided by the Ministry for Culture. Flemish Representatives abroad have a budget for their cultural activities, which is provided from the overall culture budget of the Flemish government.
There is no intention to elaborate a network of publicly mandated cultural agencies and institutes abroad. There is just one Flemish Cultural House abroad: “De Brakke Grond” in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. There are two ‘Flanders Houses’ (in New York and in Japan), diplomatic bodies with a more cultural rather than political representation. Recently, the Flanders House in Japan was rebranded as ‘Arts Flanders Japan’, a portal centre for cultural cooperation between Flanders and Japan.
Next to these structural initiatives, the Flemish Department of Foreign Affairs has been financing projects enhancing the visibility of culture from Flanders abroad. For instance, there was a one-off investment to showcase Flemish performing arts for young audiences at the ASSITEJ meeting in South Africa (March 2017).
Cooperation between the Department for Foreign Affairs and actors in the policy domain of culture on an administrative level is increasing. Leading figures in the relevant ministries meet on a regular basis. ‘Arts Flanders’ is a planning tool under construction, which (as a collaboration between a.o. Flanders Arts Institute, the Department of Culture, Youth and Media and Department of Foreign Affairs) should allow for a better cross-sectoral strategic planning and cooperation.
Flanders has concluded several international conventions, co-operation and cultural agreements with various countries and regions. The last couple of years, Flemish cultural policy has not been investing in bilateral cultural exchanges. In recent policy documents, the focus is mainly on multilateral international bodies (such as the EU, Council of Europe or UNESCO).
There are two, maybe three or four, exceptions to this trend. Elsewhere, we discussed the recent cooperation agreement with the French Community, which has led to the installation of an administrative platform for discussing policy collaborations and open calls for projects (see chapter 1.2.6). For a brief period (2012-2015) China was in the spotlight of a working plan. More recent policy documents do mention a mutual interest from the Flemish Community and the Kingdom of Morocco to set up new initiatives for cultural exchange (see chapter 2.5.1), which however has not yet been operationalised. But bilateral co-operation between the Flemish Community and the Netherlands has always been the first priority, not only in terms of internal exchange and cooperation between them, but to act jointly on external relations.
- One example is the “Taalunie”, the Dutch Language Union. The latter was founded in 1980 as an inter-governmental organisation representing the Netherlands and the Flemish Community. Its mandate is to jointly promote the Dutch language and literature in the Dutch-speaking area and abroad.
- Since 1981, ‘de Brakke Grond’ in Amsterdam is the Flemish Cultural House in Amsterdam.
- In 2004, the Flemish-Dutch House “deBuren” was inaugurated in Brussels. It is financed by both the Flemish and the Dutch government and was given the task of presenting and documenting the culture of the Low Countries and of providing a platform for debate on culture, society and politics in the Netherlands, Flanders and Europe.
- 2015 was the year of the 20th anniversary of the Flemish Dutch Cooperation Agreement. A festive programme (‘BesteBuren’) with an open call for cooperation projects, went hand in hand with a reflection on the role of the cultural houses in Brussels and in the Netherlands. This reflection has not yet reached a conclusion.
- Also, a major initiative in the Dutch-Flemish cultural collaboration was the joint organisation of Flanders and the Netherlands as ‘Guest of Honour’ at the Frankfurter Buchmesse 2016.
To carry its missions to a successful conclusion, the General Commission for the International Relations of the French Community of Belgium works with specialised agencies, which are managed jointly with the Ministry for the French Community: Wallonia-Brussels Music (WBM), Wallonia-Brussels Images (WBI), Wallonia-Brussels Theatre (WBT – Cultural Contact Point, in charge of the European programme Culture 2000), the International Youth Bureau (BIJ) and the Quebec Wallonia-Brussels Agency for Youth.
In addition to these specialised agencies, Wallonia-Brussels delegations relay the action of the French Community abroad, in particular in Berlin, Warsaw, Prague, Bucharest, Rabat, Tunis, Algiers, Dakar, Kinshasa, Quebec, Santiago of Chile, and Hanoï. In Paris, the General Delegation is more specifically in charge of the diplomatic relations with France and with international organisations based in Paris.