Debate on Culture and Heritage held in Paris as a contribution to the Conference on the Future of Europe

Europa Nostra, the Collège des Bernardins and the Jacques Delors Institute co-organised the debate “For a Europe of Culture and Heritage: from Words to Actions” on the evening of 20 October at the Collège des Bernardins in Paris. Clément Beaune, French Secretary of State in charge of European Affairs, Enrico Letta, President of the Jacques Delors Institute, and Bertrand de Feydeau, Vice-President of Europa Nostra, contributed to the debate, which was moderated by Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović, Secretary General of Europa Nostra. Prior to the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2022, this was the first event held in the frame of Europa Nostra’s call to organise debates on the future of Europe in heritage sites as a contribution to the Conference on the Future of Europe.

Two years after the European Cultural Heritage Summit in Paris and the publication of the Paris ManifestoLet us relaunch the European project through culture and cultural heritage“, this debate at the Collège des Bernardins – whose restoration received a Grand Prix of the European Heritage Awards / Europa Nostra Awards in 2010 – was an opportunity to take stock and to reiterate our messages on the role of culture and heritage for Europe. In the face of the many current crises (e.g. climate change, health and democracy), our common cultural ground offers the opportunity for a New European Renaissance, as highlighted in the Venice Call to Action published by Europa Nostra in September 2021.

In her video message, the European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Mariya Gabriel, stressed: “The European project is not built behind closed doors by politicians cut off from the general public. The European project is a popular project and it is destined to be even more so. And what could be more popular than culture? Culture has this incredible power to provoke unique emotions specific to each person but at the same time to create links between people. This sector has an extraordinary potential for the development of our territories, this sector is the soul of Europe.

Based on this premise and taking into account the three key words of the French Presidency of the Council of the EU – “Relance, Puissance, Appartenance” (Recovery, Power, Belonging) – the moderator invited the Secretary of State for European Affairs to share his views on culture and cultural heritage as a red thread to link these three notions in order to ensure a sustainable future for the European project. According to Clément Beaune, the European political project cannot further advance without the full recognition that it is rooted in our shared history and culture.

The French Presidency of the Council of the EU intends to support ideas, action and cultural initiatives aiming at strengthening our sense of belonging to Europe, such as the publication of essays on Europe by 27 authors from the Member States, the organisation of the week of European cafés with debates on Europe. He also expressed his hope that in a not too distant future the EURO banknotes will bear the image of selected founding fathers and mothers of Europe. The Secretary of State also highlighted the importance of education, training and mobility in promoting our shared culture and history as what binds us together as European citizens.

Enrico Letta, President of the Jacques Delors Institute, echoed these words by emphasising that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the values of proximity and the links with our history, which is why culture, heritage and education are vectors that must be at the heart of the European project. He stressed that while Europe focuses mostly on being an economic power, the world recognises it as a cultural power. Our cultural heritage contributes to a better living environment, it makes places lively and attractive. It offers both job opportunities and a sense of pride and belonging for all citizens and young people. For all these reasons, cultural heritage should be a priority for Europe. Stressing the need for ensuring respect for fundamental rights and values, Enrico Letta called for more investment schemes, such as NextGenerationEU, with a European purpose to counter the use of EU funds with a purely national perspective. Boosting the capacity for investment related to Europe’s heritage should be one of the priorities of the French Presidency according to the President of the Jacques Delors Institute.

Bertrand de Feydeau, Vice-President of Europa Nostra and outgoing President of the Fondation des Bernardins, highlighted “the transformative power of culture and heritage, which do not only relate to cultural policies but are assets for all European policies“. In his view, to make this New European Renaissance a reality, we need to mobilise, to support the actors who deal with cultural heritage and to strengthen cooperation between public institutions and civil society. In this respect, Bertrand de Feydeau and Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović launched the idea of a European campaign to identify the “Favourite monuments of the Europeans“, inspired by the French initiative “Monument préféré des français” or the Italian initiative “I Luoghi del Cuore”. This participatory initiative has the potential to directly reach out to a wide range of citizens and contribute to strengthening our sense of belonging to Europe.

This evening debate followed an afternoon of exchanges on the future of culture in Europe between actors of the cultural sector and citizens, which was organised by the Collège des Bernardins in partnership with the Representation of the European Parliament in France, the Hippocrene Foundation and the Semaines Sociales de France (watch the replay here). Among the participants were Mathieu Hanotin, Mayor of Saint Denis, Chantal Delsol, Philosopher, President of the Académie des Sciences morales et politiques, Jorge Chaminé, Baritone, President of the European Music Centre in Bougival and Council member of Europa Nostra, as well as Jens Althoff, Director of the Paris office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation.

After their interventions, several participative workshops took place, allowing exchanges in small groups and the elaboration of proposals to be submitted on the digital platform of the Conference on the Future of Europe, which were presented to Gaëtane Ricard-Nihoul, representative of the Secretariat of the Conference on the Future of Europe.

These proposals were then presented during the evening debate by Father Olric de Gélis, Director of the Research Department of the Bernardins. Some of them are not new initiatives but rather existing mechanisms to be strengthened and promoted. These include, for example, mobility throughout Europe in order to promote cultural knowledge of other European countries by increasing budgetary resources, communication tools, extension to new age groups or an opening to more diverse socio-professional categories.

Other proposals relate more to innovation, the creation of mechanisms or structures to be designed and implemented, such as an Encyclopaedia of European literature, the teaching of European history based on a comparative approach, the creation of “European Houses of Culture”, the creation of an Observatory of good cross-border cultural practices, or the creation of a European economic and cultural programme for the rehabilitation of our built common heritage.

In the field of art, proposals were presented to encourage residencies for young artists with the aim of bridging the gap between Western and Eastern Europe and the Balkans, to set up a European college of art critics, and to provide European countries and their teachers with a common European base for art history.

In the field of communication and media, the proposals call for more articles on culture with a European, and not only national, dimension, the need to promote European media and to widen their audience as well as the fostering of cultural exchanges with the countries of origin of migrants coming to Europe by engaging migrants and diasporas.

IMPORTANT: You can also organise a debate on the future of Europe in a heritage site! You can find more information on the Europa Nostra Agora platform webpage.

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