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Belgium/ 3.4 International cultural co-operation  

3.4.1 Overview of main structures and trends

Since 1993, the Communities have enjoyed self-government in terms of international relations, as far as their competences reach. The principle is: "in foro interno, in foro externo". This allows the Communities to enter into agreements not only with states, but also with regions or provinces of foreign countries. The Community Ministers responsible for culture rotate their participation on European Councils and international bodies.

Flemish Community

The Cultural Policy Document Culture ("Beleidsnota Cultuur") 2014-2019 advances the reinforcement of the international cultural policy as one of the main strategic aims of cultural policy. Some of the additional points of attention for this period are the following:

  • Position Flanders as a hub for talent, excellence and expertise; this includes supporting international initiatives via the above mentioned Flemish Parliament Acts. The Flemish Parliament Act on the Arts allows the Flemish Government to support prestigious foreign "presentation platforms" ("presentatieplekken", such as e.g. Ruhr Triennale) in order to stimulate the presentation of established and emerging artists from Flanders during one or more years.
  • Developing cultural ties with priority partners; special policies are being developed for exchanges with neighbouring countries/regions (The Netherlands, French Community) and the Kingdom of Morocco.
  • Maximising the dialogue between the Flemish and international policy levels (EU, UNESCO);
  • Facilitating access to subsidies and financing by international bodies (Creative Europe, Horizon 2020...).

In Flanders in the 1990’s, the focus was clearly on the (instrumental) role of culture within the broader government policy. Around 2000, this shifted, when the budgets for international cultural cooperation were shifted from the domain of foreign policy towards cultural policy. For a number of years, the Flemish Community has been re-investigating the balance between a bottom-up approach, valuing the intrinsic international dimension of culture and facilitating initiatives from the field, and a more top-down perspective, where the government seeks to develop a more directive approach, with strategies that explicitly value the intrinsic value of culture, but also seek connections to other policy domains. Indeed, diplomacy has been showing a renewed interest in culture (see chapter 3.4.2). Also, in the last years there have also been large-scale thematic focus programmes linking tourism to culture (mostly with a focus on heritage), e.g. about the Great War and about ‘Flemish Masters’. 

In the present system, subsidies for international activities are legally based in the framework of various sectoral decrees, like the Flemish Parliament Act on the Arts and the Flemish Parliament Act on Cultural Heritage, or the activities of the funds supporting literature (Flemish Literary Fund) and film (Flemish Audiovisual Fund) respectively.

  • International arts and heritage policy is mainly regulated by two decrees: the Flemish Parliament Act on the Arts and the Flemish Parliament Act on Cultural Heritage. Within both decrees support for an international initiative can be requested. The supporting intermediary organisations (Flanders Arts Institute and Faro) are active in monitoring trends in international cooperation and developing international relations.
  • The Flemish government also meets the travel and subsistence costs for international initiatives for actors in the field of amateur arts, social-cultural adult work, participation, Flemish Sign Language, circus and local cultural policy according to a regulation.
  • Even though the Flemish government defines priorities for the attribution of support to organisations, the concrete initiatives for international projects and collaborations as a rule arise from the bottom-up, from the cultural field itself. In addition, there is also policy outside the Flemish Parliament Act on the Arts, directed by the minister.
  • The literature and film Funds have it in their mission to promote their sectors internationally, cf. Flanders Image and Flanders Literature. For the sectors regulated by decrees, the supporting organisations are responsible for the development of international relations.

French-speaking Community of Belgium

Wallonie-Bruxelles International (WBI) is the agency tasked with the French-speaking Community of Belgium’s international relations. It is the instrument for the international policy conducted by the Walloon Region, the French-speaking Community of Belgium and the Committee of the French Community of the Brussels-Capital Region.

WBI’s role is to manage the cultural agreements signed with other States, but equally with Regions or Provinces in foreign countries. WBI’s priorities are the promotion and dissemination of the culture and arts created in the French-speaking Community of Belgium; multilateral action with UNESCO, the Council of Europe, the European Union and the various bodies associated with them in cultural terms; the French-speaking countries, whether industrialised or not; more strategic action aimed at the countries of the South and boosting youth exchange policies.

Under agreements with 70 countries and regions, WBI supports creators and entrepreneurs in Wallonia and Brussels. WBI handles the promotion of the constituent parts of Wallonia and Brussels as entities in which the capacity for international action is vested, and defends the values and interests of each of the parties, in a spirit of cooperation and mutual assistance.

Actions are underway in the framework of:

  • development cooperation;
  • human rights;
  • culture;
  • health and social affairs;
  • the environment;
  • youth exchanges;
  • education and training;
  • higher education; and
  • scientific research.

Wallonie-Bruxelles International also acts via a network of Delegations with diplomatic status in Algiers, Beijing, Berlin, Bucharest, Dakar, Geneva, Hanoi, Kinshasa, the Hague, Paris, Prague, Quebec, Rabat, Santiago in Chile, Tunis, Warsaw and Brussels (representation to the European Union).

For the purposes of carrying out its missions, WBI has specialist agencies, run jointly with the Ministry of the French-speaking Community of Belgium: Wallonie-Bruxelles Musiques (WBM), Wallonie-Bruxelles Images (WBI), Wallonie-Bruxelles Théâtre (WBT), Wallonie-Bruxelles Design et Mode (WBDM), the International Youth Bureau (BIJ) and the Agence Québec Wallonie-Bruxelles pour la Jeunesse.

WBI and the Ministry of the FWB likewise run projects stemming from European programmes such as Interreg (Greater Region, France-Wallonia-Flanders), Leader and the European Social Fund. In 2014, the Creative desk which runs the ‘Creative Europe’ programme was set up within the Ministry.

When it comes to the cinema, Belgium is one of the States which have ratified the European Convention on Cinematographic Co-production, the aim of which is to encourage the development of European cinematic co-production.

Via the Cinema and Audio-visual Centre (CCA), the French-speaking Community of Belgium participates in and contributes to Eurimages, the Council of Europe’s cultural fund for support for co-production, distribution and exhibition of European documentaries and feature films.

Created jointly by the European Commission and the Cinema and Audio-visual Centre of the French-speaking Community of Belgium (CCA), the MEDIA Desk Belgium – French Community – is available to keep audio-visual professionals and the general public informed about the developments and opportunities offered by the European Union’s MEDIA Programme and the European mechanisms providing support for cinema and television.

The French-speaking Community of Belgium has also signed cinematic co-production agreements with a number of States including France, China, Italy and Switzerland.

Finally, in addition to managing programmes, our institutions take part in all manner of international trade events and fairs, such as the Venice Biennale, the Venice Mostra and FIFF, in support of our cultural operators (creators, producers, artists, etc.).

Chapter published: 16-01-2018

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