The European voices of cultural heritage, regions and cities participate in the EuropeanChats

Upon invitation from the European Movement International (EMI), the Secretary General of Europa Nostra Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović participated in the EuropeanChats on 23 February, engaging in a conversation with Frédéric Vallier, Secretary General of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), moderated by Petros Fassoulas, EMI Secretary General. For its sixth edition the EuropeanChats focused on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the cultural heritage world, municipalities and regions, as well as their potential for Europe’s recovery and future. The exchanges highlighted how dialogue and cooperation between the heritage civil society and local governments can forcefully and imaginatively contribute to shaping the future of Europe.

Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović started by thanking the EMI for the fruitful cooperation since Europa Nostra became a member of this wide European network in 2018 on the occasion of its 70th anniversary. She also praised the EMI for integrating a cultural and cultural heritage dimension into all its policies priorities for the next 3 years.

Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic & responses from the sector

Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović then presented how the pandemic has affected every dimension of the cultural heritage value chain: from research to conservation and protection, and from outreach to training and education, with serious implications for the security not only of jobs but also of the very heritage buildings and collections. As demonstrated in the Paper “COVID-19 & BEYOND: Challenges and Opportunities for Cultural Heritage” published by Europa Nostra in October 2020, the cultural, creative and heritage sectors are among the most impacted by the pandemic since they heavily rely on visitors and local communities. This unprecedented crisis also offered unprecedented opportunities to rethink our way of life and recognise the healing power of culture, as evidenced by the large online cultural offer that positively contributes to people’s wellbeing.

Asked about how the sector responded, Europa Nostra’s Secretary General stated that “to build back a better Europe, we need to put culture at the very heart of Europe’s recovery and of Europe’s future”. She highlighted two initiatives launched by the wider European culture and heritage community demonstrating that cultural heritage is a vital resource for the sustainable recovery of Europe, its cities and regions, and contributes to all of the EU’s policy priorities: the European Heritage Alliance ManifestoCultural Heritage: a powerful catalyst for the Future of Europe” published on 9 May 2020 and the joint statementA Cultural Deal for Europe” published on 25 November 2020.

Frédéric Vallier, Secretary General of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), responded that the crisis also showed the importance of well-functioning public services at all levels – European, national, regional and local. In order to enable its members to exchange on their concerns and best practices, CEMR created a special COVID-19 task force and launched a study to assess the impact of the pandemic on the economy of cities, villages and regions, which are relying on tourism revenue.

He also emphasised that before the crisis, local and regional governments were responsible for allocating 60% of European public investments in crucial areas, such as the green transition (e.g. sustainability in buildings, also historic buildings, transport and tourism). For this reason, CEMR has engaged in a dialogue with the European Commission to make sure that the voice of local governments is duly taken into account in the co-design of the recovery plan. “The next months and years are going to be crucial to work together and build a future society. Local and regional governments want to be part of it to ensure the future is sustainable, resilient and greener,” stated the Secretary General of CEMR.

European Green Deal and New European Bauhaus

Picking up on sustainable recovery, Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović mentioned that the green transformation of our societies is fundamentally a cultural transformation as it implies a shift in our way of life. She regretted that the initial text of the European Green Deal does not include the word “culture” while it is an enormous resource contributing to each of its components. The pioneering European Cultural Heritage Green Paper (to be presented on 22 March 2021) developed by Europa Nostra, ICOMOS and the Climate Heritage Network, with the support of the European Investment Bank Institute, aims to address this issue. This important document shall also provide a framework for cities and regions, where people are interacting with cultural heritage, to rethink their policies in a more sustainable way.

Both speakers also welcomed the New European Bauhaus initiative recently launched by the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Layen. This transdisciplinary and bottom-up movement adds a much-needed cultural dimension to the European Green Deal. They stressed, however, that an estimated 35% of buildings in European cities and regions are older than 50 years, many of them being buildings with heritage value, thereby reflecting our shared history built over centuries, and agreed that cultural heritage stakeholders should cooperate with regions and cities to ensure the right balance between the due preservation of Europe’s historic environment and new architectural creations.

Future of Europe

To end, speakers touched upon the upcoming Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE), which provides us with the opportunity to collectively reflect on how citizens want to live and work together, which is in essence a cultural transformation. They reiterated that civil society actors and local governments ought to be actively involved in the debates as they are closer to citizens and represent their concerns.

Both organisations intend to actively participate in the CoFoE and mobilise their respective networks. While CEMR shall organise territorial dialogues, Europa Nostra intends to encourage cultural heritage sites across Europe’s cities, villages and natural sites to organise debates, as these provide inspirational places to reflect on the Future of Europe. These reflections shall demonstrate that cultural heritage is future-oriented and inclusive, playing a key role in the resilience of our democracy and society, as it brings people together and strengthens their sense of belonging not only to their local, regional and national community but also to a wider European community.

 

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