Europa Nostra speaks up for natural heritage at WeEuropeans Congress in the European Parliament

The civil society campaign #WeEuropeans was launched in December 2018 to mobilise citizens to engage more actively in the debate on the future of Europe, ahead of the European elections of next May. #WeEuropeans is a transnational and non-partisan civic campaign run by CIVICO Europa – a non-profit, independent, and transnational association, aiming to give a new impetus to the European project – and Make.org – a leading European CivicTech company whose mission is to massively engage civil society into the positive transformation of society.

On 13 and 17 December 2018, the op-ed “Europeans, let’s take back control of our future!” was published by leading media outlets from 13 European countries. Hermann Parzinger, President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (SPK) and Executive President of Europa Nostra and Sneska Quaedvlieg-Mihailovic, Secretary General of Europa Nostra, are among the culture personalities who joined the campaign and signed the op-ed.

To show its support for a citizens’ movement who are convinced that the EU is the most efficient lever for change to meet major challenges, Europa Nostra agreed to contribute to the #WeEuropeans campaign and provide input by stressing the huge value and multiple benefits of cultural heritage for the future of Europe in the spirit of our “Berlin Call to Action”.

Against this background, Europa Nostra was invited to act as an ‘Ambassador’ for natural heritage at the WeEuropeans Congress held in the European Parliament in Brussels on 22 March 2019. The Congress was organised as a follow-up to a pan-European online consultation around one single question: “How can we reinvent Europe, concretely?”. Two million Europeans participated in the consultation, submitting and voting over 30,000 proposals on topics that matter most to them. The 10 top-voted proposals to ‘reinvent Europe’ were put together in the ‘WeEuropeans Citizens’ Agenda’ and then presented and discussed among civil society organisations, citizens and European policy-makers at the WeEuropean Congress.

Presenting citizens’ concerns through the WeEuropeans Citizens’ Agenda
The Congress was opened by Luca Jahier, President of the European Economic and Social Committee, who welcomed the initiative as a timely one to ‘make concrete proposals to drive our societies forward’, just ahead of the European elections 2019.

Following the opening speeches, each one of the 10 most-approved proposals were presented by their authors: 10 European citizens from diverse backgrounds, age and nationalities. The proposals addressed diverse topics; from environmental issues, to transparency and tax compliance, as well as social policies and labour and health rights. 3 of the 10 proposals were related to environmental issues, which appears to be the first concern of Europeans. Read the WeEuropeans Citizens Agenda here.

Each one of the 10 citizens was supported by an ‘Ambassador’ from a civil society organisation with solid expertise in the topic addressed by each of the proposals in question. Europa Nostra, represented by Outreach Officer Lorena Aldana, was invited to act as an ‘Ambassador’ for a proposal concerning the safeguard of Europe’s natural heritage.

The environmental, social and cultural value of Europe’s forests
Lorena Aldana Outreach Officer in Europa Nostra took the floor to support the need for the sustainable management of Europe’s natural heritage, especially forests.

“At Europa Nostra, we work to safeguard Europe’s cultural and natural heritage in its broadest sense: man-built, nature-made and everything resulting from the interaction of the two. This includes landscapes, biodiversity and the ecosystem, and of course, Europe’s forests (…). Forests and trees are vital to our planet: by protecting soils and water, and by helping mitigate climate change, forests are in fact the lungs of the Earth”.

Europa Nostra’s Outreach Officer stressed that deforestation represents a great loss of the world’s natural heritage as forests host around 80% of the earth’s biodiversity (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2018). Forests also have a significant social and cultural value for Europe and have played an important role in shaping human and European culture: many literary works, paintings and traditional stories have been inspired by Europe’s deep forests! The socio-cultural, economic and ecological implications of forest management are equally important and should be addressed in an holistic and integrated way.

Outreach Officer Lorena Aldana called on participants to assume a shared responsibility for and take urgent measures to protect Europe’s natural heritage, to make sure that Europe’s forests will still be there for the generations to come.

One of the concrete ways in which Europa Nostra contributes to the safeguard of Europe’s natural heritage is by promoting and rewarding good practices in its management through the European Heritage Awards/ Europa Nostra award, an award scheme jointly organised with the European Commission since 2002. An example of the latter is the Forest of Saint Francis (Bosco di San Francesco – Assisi) in Italy, awarded in 2013 for being an excellent example of conservation and integrated landscape restoration.

Informal reactions by European political representatives and leaders followed the presentation of the 10 proposals in the Citizens’ Agenda. Members of the European Parliament Jo Leinen, Danuta Hübner, Guy Verhofstadt, Philippe Lamberts, Christian Kremer, Mercedes Bresso and Maria João Rodrigues, as well as former MEP Javier Moreno Sánchez and the former Minister of Labour, Employment and Immigration of Luxembourg, Nicolas Schmit, took the floor to express their views on the proposals and congratulated citizens for their active engagement in shaping a more direct European democracy.

Next steps
Following a successful and well attended WeEuropeans Congress, CIVICO Europa has committed itself to continuously monitoring the evolution of the citizens’ proposals to make sure they are considered in the candidates’ programmes or in the Union’s projects after the new European Parliament and the new European Commission are established.

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