In addition to shaping identities, culture plays an important economic role in today's world. At the beginning of the German EU presidency, German Culture Minister Bernd Neumann said culture shouldn't be treated lightly.
Neumann says that Europe's diversity is its greatest cultural asset
"If there is anything that forges the identity of a country, a continent or, in our case, the EU, it is culture," Germany's Culture Minister Bernd Neumann told Radio Bremen.
Germany's Culture Minister Bernd Neumann
"If we had to account for what makes us German, what is typical for us Germans, there would be basically only one answer: culture. History is part of it, as well as language. The same thing applies to the continent," he said.
Although European culture has been traditionally and predominantly Christian, the Europe of today is culturally and religiously diverse. Migratory flows are increasing and the union itself got two new members -- Bulgaria and Rumania -- on Jan. 1.
"The main issue for us is how to make cultures reach out to one another," Neumann said. "First of all, the prerequisite would be to know one's own culture. We are consciously talking about the dialog of cultures, but it would be wrong to want to mix everything up."
"I don't think there's anything bad about certain traditions being preserved -- for example, those of our Turkish citizens," Neumann said. "We need to know more about these things. And we need to talk more to each other. But thinking that we could integrate everything would be as wrong as trying to do integrate all the different Christian cultures," he said.
According to Neumann, culture ministers across Europe agree that culture should not be considered a "light" topic in the EU.
"We all believe that the importance of culture in the EU must be strengthened," Neumann said." But it's obvious that some places -- including Germany and some local governments -- people believe that culture is good to have, but that there are other things that more important."
The economic factor
The EU Commission, however, has determined that six million people work in the cultural sector across Europe, which makes culture important as an economic factor as well.
What's more important: cars or culture?
"As far as job figures are concerned, culture and media are significantly bigger than the car industry in Germany, which carries a lot of weight," Neumann said. "That's why we need to keep repeating: Culture costs money, but it also brings money. Our job will be to emphasize the importance of culture for the economy."
Neumann said that Europe's diversity is its most valuable cultural asset, which should be preserved and promoted as much as possible.
"We must think together about what we can do to improve Europe's position in view of its cultural attractions and cultural diversity," Neumann said. "Unity based on diversity seems to me to me as the central point of view."
Neumann has invited his European colleagues to join him for a ministerial culture summit on Feb. 12 and 13 in Berlin, during the Berlin Film Festival.