Europa Nostra participates at Maltese Presidency conference on cultural diplomacy
In the framework of the Maltese Presidency of the Council of the EU, the high-level conference ‘Cultural Diplomacy: Fostering International Cultural Dialogue, Diversity and Sustainability’ brought together key policy makers and cultural stakeholders from EU Member States on 9 March 2017 in Valletta, Malta. The conference provided a platform to discuss a strategic approach to international cultural relations. Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović, Secretary General of Europa Nostra, represented the voice of civil society from the field of heritage in the first session on ‘Safeguarding Our Cultural Heritage: An Integrated Approach‘ which was moderated by Dr Anthony Pace, Superintendent of Cultural Heritage, Malta. She shared the panel with Dr Mechthild Roessler, Director of the Heritage Division and Director of the World Heritage Centre, UNESCO, and Professor Henry Frendo, Professor of History, Faculty of Arts, University of Malta.
Addressing the European policy makers, Europa’s Secretary General called for a more “enlightened” cultural leadership and welcomed the current mobilisation of public and private stakeholders for a true EU strategy for international cultural relations. She added that the activities of Europa Nostra to safeguard heritage and to celebrate excellent heritage achievements through campaigns and programmes like the 7 Most Endangered or the EU Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Awards perfectly embody “cultural diplomacy in action for heritage”.
Since cultural diplomacy for heritage depend also on dedicated and knowledgeable ambassadors, Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović paid tribute to the many volunteers and professionals committed to the same cause, such as Din l’Art Helwa, the National Trust for Malta and Europa Nostra country representation in Malta. Its founder, late Judge Maurice Carruana Curran, was also one of the founding fathers of Europa Nostra whose network now spans wide across the European continent.
Recalling that deplorable acts of deliberate destruction of heritage do not only occur in the Middle East or Africa but also happened very recently in Europe, Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović mentioned the World Heritage City of Dubrovnik, the Town Hall and Library of Sarajevo, the world-famous Old Bridge of Mostar and religious sites in Kosovo. Thanks to many efforts at intergovernmental and civil society levels, many of these heritage sites have been repaired or rebuilt, contributing to post-conflict revitalisation of the affected communities. Also, in the light of today’s renewed tensions in the wider region of the Western Balkans, Europa Nostra’s Secretary General called for renewed cultural engagement of the EU and civil society in this region. As if to recall that our shared cultural heritage does not only face man-made threats, Malta’s iconic landmark the Azure Window in Gozo had collapsed just one day before the Cultural Diplomacy conference during a storm, thereby reminding us that our heritage is a fragile and non-renewable resource.
The following sessions of the conference were dedicated to culture as a pillar for sustainable socio-economic development and to intercultural dialogue for engaging potential and embracing diversity. Together, the three sessions reflected the three pillars of the proposed way towards an EU strategy for international cultural relations as proposed by the European Commission and the European External Action Service in June 2016 in a Joint Communication. In his opening speech, Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, linked the strategy to the upcoming European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018 which presented “an opportunity to celebrate the past” while at the same time provide “a unique chance to reflect on the future of our heritage and of our relation to it, including its role in fostering intercultural dialogue”. The Commissioner also thanked the Maltese Presidency for their role in helping to conclude the negotiations on the legal base of the Year and for their intention to develop Council conclusions on the strategy, thereby turning to Owen Bonnici, Minister for Justice, Culture and Local Government, who gave the final opening statement.
After the conference, Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović and Europa Nostra Board member and former Executive President of Din l-Art Helwa Simone Mizzi met with the Maltese Minister of Culture, Owen Bonnici, to discuss the role of civil society for the forthcoming European Year of Cultural Heritage. They also discussed ways in strengthening cooperation with regard to cultural heritage in the entire Mediterranean region especially next year when Valletta will be the Cultural Capital of Europe. Finally, ahead of Europa Nostra Board meeting in Valletta (on 17-18 March) they voiced the joint concern of Europa Nostra and Din l’Art Helwa about the latest urban development plans (including a series of high-rise buildings located in Sliema) threatening the visual integrity of the unique Baroque ensemble of the World Heritage City of Valletta.
Given the importance of cultural heritage for the proposed EU strategy, Europa Nostra has been liaising actively with stakeholders and policy-makers since the launch of the Joint Communication in June 2016 when Europa Nostra’s Secretary General welcomed the strategy during the high-level UNESCO #Unite4Heritage conference organised in Brussels. In October 2016, Europa Nostra contributed to a hearing of stakeholders on the strategy that was organised by the Rapporteur of the European Committee of the Regions, Apostolos Tzitzikostas, whose opinion was adopted in February 2017. Likewise, Europa Nostra Vice-President Piet Jaspaert attended the respective hearing with civil society, multilateral institutions and cultural stakeholders organised by the European Economic and Social Committee on 1 March whose Rapporteur Luca Jahier is currently drafting an opinion on the topic. On 7 March, Europa Nostra also met with representatives of the Cultural Diplomacy Platform in Brussels to discuss the role of cultural heritage in the strategy. Finally, the European Parliament invited our Secretary General to contribute on 22 March to the discussion on the Draft Report “Towards an EU Strategy for International Cultural Relations” prepared by Co-Rapporteurs MEP Silvia Costa and MEP Elmar Brok.