Reading the Euro; Culture Politics in France and Germany

READING THE EURO: Countries in the European Community may have lost part of their national identity when the Euro became the official currency for the twelve member states on January 1, but commentators have gained a rare opportunity to reflect on the aesthetics of the new money. In the Frankfurter Rundschau, Thomas Macho describes the nomadic character of money evidenced in the new bills, which feature images of abstract windows, gates, doors, passages on one side, and bridges to nowhere on the other. Die Zeit’s Achatz von Müller considers the political, historical, and psychological roles of the currency, which recalls “a mid-priced Hugo Boss suit—stereotypical, ascetic, bank elegance.” Finally, Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Holger Liebs comments on the “iconography of disappearance” in the banknotes, which he finds “abstract and somehow not meant to be serious.”

FRANCE’S CULTURAL EXCEPTION CHALLENGED: In France, Vivendi Universal head Jean-Marie Messier has created something of a national scandal by declaring, “The Franco-French cultural exception is dead.” His statement, made on December 17 in New York, has infuriated cinema industry officials as well as politicians across the spectrum, from the right wing Le Pen party to the French Communist Party. Established in 1993 and successfully defended in both GATT and WTO negotiations, the “exception” allows France to protect its national heritage—primarily against the United States—by allowing for government subsidies and regulations in all areas of cultural production, from the film industry to museums. Le Monde offers an extensive dossier on the Messier affair, including a chronicle of the national fight for cultural diversity, from François Mitterrand to Jacques Chirac.

FRENCH MUSEUM BILL BECOMES LAW: As France debates national heritage, a new museum bill has finally become law after more than ten years of debate, reports Emmanuel de Roux. The law establishes standards for cultural institutions across the country, which will carry the label “Musée de France” if they meet the new requirements. A series of revisions completed this fall evidently pleased the Senate, which passed the bill unanimously. The Senate also passed a new law to create establishments for cultural cooperation between the state and territorial collectivities, reports de Roux, in another story.

GERMAN FEDERAL CULTURE FOUNDATION ON ITS FEET: In Germany, the Federal Culture Foundation (Bundeskulturstiftung) has finally received the green light and will start operating this month with a budget of 76.7 million Euros over the next three years. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s cultural advisor Julian Nida-Rümelin had pledged to support contemporary art in all fields, but earlier this year his proposals met with opposition from the ministers of culture in the individual states. These ministers enjoy a great deal of autonomy because Germany has no national minister of culture. Now, Nida-Rümelin claims that contemporary art initiatives can still be undertaken without the direct support of the states by concentrating primarily on international exchange. FAZ.NET reports on the truce Nida-Rümelin’s plans for the new foundation—the first national cultural foundation in Germany since WWII.