Eröffnungsrede bei der kulturpolitischen Online-Konferenz „Europe takes part!“ (englisch)

Recently, the headline of a big newspaper read: “A picture on the wall – that was yesterday. These days, people invest in digital artworks.” The article was about the record price reached for a digital collage made up of 5000 small images.
       
A famous auction house obtained an incredible 69 million dollar – not for a hand-painted picture, but for a data file! 
A technology with three letters makes this possible: NFT. It stands for Non-Fungible Token. It turns a digital work into an authentic and unique item. What might be a sensational headline today can turn out to be routine tomorrow. 
The digital transformation of our society is advancing at an incredible speed. One development leads to the next. Culture professionals and cultural policymakers need to face these changes. Because: they have a simple choice to make: either shaping digital developments or being shaped by them.
       
We have organised this conference today because we want to be shapers. 
Because we don’t want to be always running to catch up with developments, but to seize the opportunities presented by the digital transformation.      
Because Europe needs to play an active role in developing digital cultural space. We don’t have to produce digital art. But we shouldn’t just be staring at the walls either – however impressive the masterpieces hanging there may be.       
Our goal is clear: We must understand Europe as a social space built on solidarity; a space which fosters democratic exchange and shapes the future. The digital space is one means of achieving this – even though we can’t yet fully predict what form it will take. 
Ladies and gentlemen,  
One year ago, Dario Franceschini, José Manuel Rodríguez Uribes and I pointed out the challenges of the digital transformation. But we also stressed the opportunities of this transformation for cultural exchange in Europe.  
This was prompted by the COVID-19 crisis. At that point we had no idea how long we would have to do without theatre, cinema, festivals! For almost one year now, the pandemic has brought cultural life as we know it almost to a stop.
This year has been tough for the cultural scene, and it still is. But it has also given many new impulses. Theatres have started to stream their performances. Authors are doing their readings from their own sofas. I myself was in South Sudan and Rwanda this week. Virtually and with no emissions.       
All this will never be able of replacing the experience of personal interaction. Because society needs art, and art needs society. But I am convinced: Much of what we are trying out now will last. Hybrid formats will become the new additive normal.       
And digital transformation will not only change the distribution of art and culture. It will also change how art is created.   
That will all have a huge impact on copyright, on the sphere of influence of art and of course on the question of how artists can earn a living from their work.       
It was therefore very important to me that we jointly address this issue during Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union.     
An intensive exchange took place last year. Today we want to discuss and elaborate on the numerous initiatives and ideas that this exchange generated. I am therefore particularly delighted that so many high-ranking guests have accepted the invitation to today’s event. I would like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks also to Minister Graça Fonseca, Minister Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin and Sabine Verheyen representing the European Parliament. 
Minister Fonseca unfortunately can’t be present today because of the Council of Ministers.     
Ladies and gentlemen,  
I am convinced that we need a pan-European digital cultural space. Because: individual states alone will not be able to overcome the challenges of the digital transformation. As the world’s largest economic area, we have an influence that we can only exert by joining forces.    
Yet, a European digital cultural space will also help us to cultivate more exchange, partnership and cooperation in Europe and beyond. It is a vital key to creating a common European public and cultural space.      
Let us seize the chance to strengthen cultural ownership, particularly among young people. Even beyond the algorithms in social media feeds. And let us ensure that it generates a sense of community. “Unity in diversity” must also be the motto of the EU in the digital space, rather than hatred and hate speech. 
However, to achieve this, we need to prepare the ground and grasp the opportunity now. There has never been a better time to do so. The Conference on the Future of Europe begins on 9 May. And the European Spaces of Culture initiative, which EUNIC is conducting on behalf of the EU Commission, provides a sound substantive basis on which we can build. 
Ladies and gentlemen,  
It is in our own interest to create a digital cultural space in Europe, which serves the general public and not a few powerful companies. It must be a space which fulfils a public demand for information and education; and which is run with public funding.
Many internet companies help to make cultural services available to broad sections of society. 
Yet, what we need is clear rules.      
That includes a Europe-wide copyright law.     
We need ways to fight hate speech, propaganda and disinformation.      
We need to prevent the creation of a great market power that damages innovation and competition.       
We need to protect data.       
We need to develop digital skills in Europe so that we can make the most of all these opportunities.   
And last but not least: we ourselves need to promote and support the development of relevant public platforms. 
The concept of an Italian platform which Minister Franceschini is pursuing is remarkable. Because it combines a cultural policy approach with the creative economic potential of art and culture.      
I myself am pursuing a very similar idea at European level: a European platform that brings together existing initiatives and concepts.
The goal is to make Europe’s cultural diversity visible also in the digital sphere, both within and outside Europe.    
I am convinced: such a platform can and should be more than a mere content-based platform. It should make networking possible so that something new can evolve. It should facilitate discourse and debate. It should be a true European cultural space.
That is why it was important to me to invite our European partners, right up to the Commission and the European Parliament, to discuss this idea and to begin developing a prototype.  
Ladies and gentlemen,  
Digital and analogue space cannot be separated. During the COVID-19 pandemic we have seen how so-called real life has shifted to the virtual sphere. But this development is not a one-way street. It can also go in the other direction.      
Content produced in a virtual context shapes our opinions in real life. Digital opportunities can transform distribution channels, market power and access. Algorithms can sort out successful from unsuccessful artists. They create facts. And technology can even change our understanding of art.  
But also: Art can change the understanding of ourselves.