Androulla VASSILIOU Member of the European Commission responsible for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth Celebrating Europe’s extraordinary cultural heritage 5th European Heritage Days Forum in Cyprus Nicosia, 15 October 2012

Celebrating Europe’s extraordinary cultural heritage

Nicosia, 17-10-2012 — / — 5th European Heritage Days Forum in Cyprus

Dear Minister Mavrou,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to be with you here, in Nicosia.

I would like to thank the organisers, and the Cyprus Presidency in particular, for the excellent job they have done in hosting this event.

I would also like to use this opportunity to congratulate the national coordinators for their relentless commitment to the European Heritage Days year after year. Their work and enthusiasm fully deserve our praise.

Today, we are here to open the fifth European Heritage Days Forum on communicating heritage.

It is indeed a key challenge. Nobody can or would deny the great value of Europe’s cultural heritage But if we want to do more than just pay only lip-service to the importance of preserving Europe’s heritage, then we must address the issue of how best to share it with our citizens.

Because the only way to ensure the survival of such an extraordinary patrimony is to engender a sense of ownership and pride on the part of the community.

When heritage is concerned, ignorance begets decay. It is impossible to protect and preserve a historical site, a cultural practice, a valued craft or tradition, if knowledge and appreciation of them are not widely shared among the population.

In the end, the only way to keep heritage and culture alive is through good and sound communication.

And Europe has an important role to play in supporting and raising awareness of our shared cultural heritage, always, of course, in close partnership with the Member States.

We justly take pride in our individual national traditions and cultural riches. The EU’s role is to point out how interconnected our national traditions are. Only a European dimension can help to bring to the fore our shared identity, the extent to which the cultural heritage of each Member State and region adds up to create the sense of belonging to a European community.

Our cultural heritage can also play an important role in Europe’s economic prosperity; no other world region holds such a rich inheritance, reflecting the way in which Europe has been the cradle of so much of world’s development. But we are still not reaping the full benefits and spill-over effects of culture in Europe.

In short, we have still not managed to integrate culture sufficiently into a new economic paradigm, or into our reflection about how to exit from the current crisis.

This is a challenge we are trying to address within the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive economic growth in the European Union. I seek all opportunities to make the case that culture – both in its creative and heritage aspects – has the potential to deliver economic growth and highly desirable knowledge-based jobs.

Because communication is crucial if we are to make this case for all to see and, thereby, to make it a reality.

Because noble intentions do not always lead to concrete results. We all know that there are quite a number of challenges in Europe, and attracting enough funding to match our hopes is not an easy task.

Indeed, at regional and national level we have seen some severe budget cuts in the cultural sector recently, in the name of austerity.

Let me also say at the start that the current EU budget itself does not fully live up to our ambitions. In fact only a small percentage [0.04%] is allocated to the EU’s Culture Programme.

Nonetheless, despite the rather limited budget, I am proud to say that the Culture Programme has invested more than €30 million in heritage projects since 2007.

And there are also other sources of support for cultural heritage across different EU instruments.

Over the past five years, the European Regional Development Fund has allocated €6 billion for cultural projects in Europe. These have included the protection and preservation of sites, the development of cultural infrastructure and support for cultural services. And let us all work together to make sure that this remains so in the future. We need your support in this – culture should be a priority.

The EU Framework Programmes for Research and Technological Development has also been providing a lot of support for culture-related projects since 1998.

The EU is also a very active supporter of awareness-raising actions. The current European Heritage Days, which the European Commission and the Council of Europe support together, attract every year to our monuments and buildings more than 25 million visitors.

For me, this proves the tremendous interest that Europeans have in their culture.

And I look forward to exchanging views with the national coordinators on the potential this offers for promoting more fully the European dimension of our heritage.

As part of our efforts to raise the visibility of cultural heritage, we support the EU Prize for cultural heritage/Europa Nostra awards. Here, our aim is to highlight best practices in the field of restoration, research, education, training and awareness-raising in Europe.

I am glad that you will have the chance to hear about this year’s winner of the public choice award, the fortifications of Pamplona.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the members of Europa Nostra, our partner for this prize, for their very effective support.

I should mention also our new initiative to put more emphasis on the European dimension: the European Heritage Label, following up on a previous initiative managed at intergovernmental level. We expect to begin awarding the Label next year.

Our goal will be to highlight historical sites across Europe that symbolise the European integration process. For example, one site that got the Label under the previous initiative is the house where Robert Schuman – one of the fathers of European integration – was born. The Venetian Walls [the fortifications] of Nicosia is another example.

For me, this Label is an excellent way to make people more aware of our European history and heritage and to involve them in it. But the added value is also the label’s potential to contribute to the sustainable development of regions, in particular through cultural tourism.

All these different EU initiatives that I have just outlined to you confirm the importance we attach to communicating our heritage and to engaging and empowering Europeans to take ownership of it.

As we look to the future, I am working to ensure that the next EU funding period 2014-2020 will live up to our cultural ambitions for Europe.

The new Creative Europe programme I have proposed will take over from the current Culture Programme in 2014; it is designed to give culture a more prominent role and take full advantage of its potential – including the contribution culture can make to the economy.

For this, I have proposed a substantial increase in its budget.

The argument I have put to my colleagues in the Commission and in the Member States was again that in times of economic crisis, Europe must have the vision to invest more in culture.

The evidence is clear that investment pays off – but we must fight the erroneous perception that culture is a luxury, when it can be instead a strategic asset.

For this, I have just presented (on September 26) a strategy for better exploiting the potential for growth and jobs of the cultural and creative sectors. We look into the needs of these sectors facing the challenges of globalization, the digital shift, and still fragmented European markets. We call for the development of integrated strategies at national, regional and local level. Strategies that go beyond cultural policies in a narrow sense, and encompass urban and regional development and territorial planning. We present the array of EU financial instruments that are or can be mobilised in support of cultural policies – as I have briefly done today, as concerns the support specifically for heritage.

In the end, more investment in culture – be it at European, national or local level – would allow us to reach out to more people. This is our objective for all the initiatives I have mentioned. Indeed, with the Creative Europe programme, where we propose to focus on audience development, in order to make the arts and culture more widely accessible, with a vision for the long-term. We want to enable more people to experience, enjoy, and value the arts and heritage. We propose to use all the various means that are available today for cultural operators, from digital tools to volunteering, from co-creation to partnerships.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today’s Forum is an opportunity to share experiences and learn from one another.

Let us remember that beyond the specific features of individual countries, we have a potential audience of 500 million people to address. And that is a Europe that, even in times of economic crisis and financial turmoil, becomes every day more mobile, more interconnected, and more conscious of itself and of its possibilities,

I see the European dimension both as a huge opportunity and as a challenge that we have to take up.

I trust you share this too.

Thank you for your attention.



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