Questions about the merits of the common market are well under way, but the European institutions are keen to ensure that Europe’s cultural heritage is celebrated.
Why a Year of European Cultural Heritage? There is no doubt that we benefit from affordable prices of goods and services, but negative side effects of a common market such as the elimination of cultural differences and inability to accommodate local particularities increases Euro-scepticism within public opinion. It is in this context that at the end of August 2016, the European Commission published a communication proposing ‘A Year of European Cultural Heritage’ for 2018 in order to demonstrate European institutions’ commitment to cultural diversity and preserving the heritage of our continent. The idea of this initiative rests with the Council, which first proposed it in 2014.
The approach of the Commission was not simply driven by its desire to defend the common market, but as explained in its press release announcing the proposal, aimed to “highlight the role of Europe’s cultural heritage in fostering a shared sense of history and identity”. Whilst locally and regionally diverse, different forms of archaeology and architecture, folklore and fine arts, castles and churches, all draw on the same sources and inspiration, allowing Europeans to understand their sense of belonging to the same civilization. We need go no further than to think about Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries, Romanesque, Gothic or Baroque churches as well as the routes of pilgrimages that have shaped the geography of our continent.
However, the Commission would not be the Commission if it had not emphasized the economic impact of cultural heritage in Europe. The Commission therefore highlights data showing that over 300,000 people are directly employed by the European cultural heritage sector and that 7.8 million European jobs are linked to it indirectly, for example in tourism, construction, as well as in auxiliary services such as transport, interpreting, maintenance and security.
In France alone, during 2011 an overall turnover of 8.1 billion euros was generated from museums, management of historical sites and monuments and other tourist attractions, not forgetting libraries and archives. On a practical level, the European Year should also help to conserve, restore and promote cultural heritage.
Following the Commission’s original proposal, the European Council and the European Parliament established an interim agreement on 9 February 2017 for an official decision in favour of the European Year of Cultural Heritage. A specific budget of 8 million euros was allocated for the programmed activities.
The European Parliament then adopted a decision on 27 April 2017, emphasizing that the ideals, principles and intrinsic values of Europe’s cultural heritage constitute a common source of memory, understanding, identity, dialogue, cohesion and creativity for Europe and that the preamble to the Treaty of the European Union states that signatories were inspired by the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe.
The Council’s final decision was adopted on 17 May 2017 and since then preparations have been made within the European Commission and within the ministries of Member States. On the European Commission’s website dedicated to the European year, it is now possible to obtain information and subscribe to an electronic newsletter.
Given that the specific organization of activities is the responsibility of the Member States, it is planned to set up national coordinators. At the European Union level, national coordinator meetings are planned.
For the Church in Europe, for episcopal conferences, dioceses, parishes and monasteries, the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018 is an opportunity to assert the spiritual heritage for which they have responsibility. This heritage is entirely part of the cultural heritage: you could even say that it constitutes its central pillar or its cornerstone. This is why COMECE is planning a European conference at the beginning of next year to bring together interested parties from episcopal conferences and from European associations such as Future for Religious Heritage.