European Council conclusions on European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018

Just one week after the official launch of the European Year of Cultural Heritage (EYCH) 2018, EU leaders adopted first-ever conclusions on education and culture at the meeting of the European Council in Brussels on 14 December. These conclusions, among others, call upon EU Member States, the Council and the Commission to use the opportunity provided by the European Year to increase awareness about the social and economic importance of our shared cultural heritage.

These December conclusions build on the main results of the discussions held at the Gothenburg Social Summit one month earlier. European Council conclusions are adopted at every European Council meeting by consensus between all EU member states and serve to identify specific issues of concern or to outline actions to take, hence, shaping the policy agenda of the EU. The novelty and value of these conclusions lie in the fact that an entire chapter is dedicated to the social dimension, education and culture. Europa Nostra applauds such an explicit reference to the European Year which confirms the high political importance European political leaders attach to this initiative.

During their December meeting, “Leaders highlighted the importance of the social, educational and cultural dimension of our policies in bringing Europeans together and building our common future.” Moreover, EU leaders acknowledge the vital contribution of culture to promoting inclusiveness and cohesion in societies: “Education and culture are key to building inclusive and cohesive societies, and to sustaining our competitiveness.” Most importantly, the European Council called on Member States, the Council and the European Commission “to take work forward with a view to (…) taking the opportunity of the European Year of Cultural Heritage to increase awareness of the social and economic importance of culture and cultural heritage.”

Europa Nostra’s Secretary General Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović, who has been leading and coordinating the organisation’s lobbying and advocacy efforts over the last two decades, highlighted what this short but crucial reference to the European Year means for cultural heritage stakeholders in Europe:

“By mentioning cultural heritage and the European Year of Cultural Heritage in their first-ever conclusions on education and culture, the European Council has clearly put cultural heritage higher up onto EU’s policy agenda. Cultural Heritage should indeed be at the heart of the discussions about the future of Europe. Europa Nostra and the entire heritage movement, including the European Heritage Alliance 3.3, can now draw on the political momentum generated by the European Year to urge EU leaders and Institutions to adopt and implement an ambitious European Agenda and Action Plan for Cultural Heritage. Our European Cultural Heritage Summit in Berlin will be a crucial platform for advancing this vital goal.”

She added that the reference in the conclusions was fully in line with what Europa Nostra had been advocating in the past years. In particular, it echoed the findings of the European report Cultural Heritage Counts for Europe prepared by 6 European partners led by Europa Nostra, which demonstrated the vital contribution of cultural heritage to economy, society, environment and culture as a key resource of sustainable development. The adoption of the European Council conclusions should also be seen in the context of the future scenarios for culture and cultural heritage as outlined by the European Commission in its contribution to the EU leaders’ debate on education and culture at the Gothenburg Social Summit. In the light of these scenarios and the upcoming first ever EU leaders’ informal working lunch on education and culture, the Council of Europa Nostra had issued a statement on the eve of the Gothenburg Social Summit applauding the inclusion of education and culture on the agenda and calling for taking up specific reference to cultural heritage in the forthcoming European Council conclusions.

What comes next?

In spring 2018, the European Commission is expected to make proposals for Council recommendations, where relevant, in reaction to the Council conclusions.

The Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, which will take over from Estonia on 1 January 2018, has already confirmed its commitment to make culture and cultural heritage a priority by focusing on cultural heritage as a strategic resource for the better future of the EU and by adopting related Council conclusions.

An informal meeting of EU Ministers of Culture will take place in Sofia on 28 February 2018 to discuss “culture as an inclusive value of Europe”. Other important initiatives of the Bulgarian Presidency will be the international conference on cultural heritage on 26-27 March 2018 in Plovdiv (European Capital of Culture in 2019), to which Europa Nostra will contribute, and the thematic conference on illicit trafficking of cultural heritage on 9 May 2018, followed by an experts seminar.

The European Cultural Heritage Summit to be held on 18-24 June 2018 in Berlin will seek to propose the main strands of the future EU Agenda and Action Plan for Cultural Heritage.

Let us also mention the closing conference of the European Year of Cultural Heritage to be organised by the Austrian Presidency on 11-12 December 2018 in Vienna.

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