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Member of European Commission for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth
Why cultural heritage needs to move with the times
EU Presidency Conference on Heritage Commons
Turin, 23 September 2014
I would like to start by thanking the Italian Presidency for inviting me today and for choosing to hold this event in such an extraordinary venue. The "Venaria Reale", with all its beauty and masterpieces it contains, with its vibrant cultural life, is a perfect setting for a European Conference on Cultural Heritage. It is a living example of how we can treasure our heritage and use its potential for local and regional sustainable development in Europe.
Beautiful as it is today, this place in fact suffered a few years of neglect. Only a few years ago it wasn't so splendid. But today it is alive again, thanks in part to the wise use of European funds. In fact, La Venaria has been one of the largest cultural restoration projects in Europe and one of the best examples of European Cohesion policy at work in Italy.
Of course, none of this would have been possible without the knowledge and skills of the hundreds of people who helped to restore damaged buildings, artworks, paths and gardens, reviving the baroque splendour of the Reggia di Venaria and its surrounding landscape. And this expertise is being nurtured and passed on to future generations thanks to the Cultural Heritage Conservation and Restoration Centre, one of the most important high level training and research centres in Italy.
Public and private actors are all actively participating in the maintenance, management and development of this site. And it is thanks to this successful model of heritage governance that La Venaria has now become a "cultural hub", linking heritage with contemporary culture and offering a wealth of cultural events accessible to all.
We all share the same passion for Europe's cultural heritage.
It is our common wealth, our inheritance from previous generations and our legacy to those to come. It enriches our identity at the same time as it nourishes today's creativity. It is an irreplaceable repository of knowledge and a valuable resource for economic growth, employment and social cohesion.
But cultural heritage is not a passive inheritance.
Its survival depends on our capacity to face the many challenges of today: governments are cutting public budgets for culture and heritage; digitisation is shaking up traditional models of access to and participation in culture; valuable skills and craftsmanship are waning with time; global change and urbanisation are affecting environmental sustainability;
In the policy paper 'Towards an integrated approach to cultural heritage for Europe' that I presented this summer to my colleagues and that the College of Commissioners adopted, I make the case that we need to help the heritage sector move with the times. We need to make heritage more 'people-centred' and turn it into a driver of economic activity. Sites should become centres of knowledge and innovation, focal points of creativity and culture, and places of community interaction and social integration.
In short, we need to make heritage a resource for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, in line with the objectives of the EU 2020 strategy.
Let me stress here a key point: the value of cultural heritage is always both local and European. Heritage is made up of local stories but has been also forged across borders and communities.
Protecting cultural heritage and making full use of its potential is above all a national responsibility, but the EU can and must help. There is no contradiction between national responsibilities and EU intervention in support of them.
It is important that together we look into how public policies at all levels could be better marshalled to this purpose, and develop a more integrated approach to its preservation, promotion and access.
We must help local communities to take ownership of heritage management, to make it part of their daily life and common space and a factor of sustainable development. We can do this by developing innovative forms of community-oriented management that can enhance the economic and social potential of cultural heritage and contribute to the well-being of citizens.
There are a host of new EU instruments that need to be better known and mobilised, starting with the Creative Europe and Horizon 2020 programmes. Such opportunities should not be missed. Europe can help by spearheading research on new techniques for heritage restoration and maintenance. It can fund cross-border cooperation through trans-national projects; provide direct support via the Structural Funds – as was the case for the Venaria Reale itself.
It also raises awareness through initiatives such as the European Heritage Label or the European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage or the European Heritage Days, a joint initiative with the Council of Europe. These initiatives largely celebrate the role of volunteers and the value of a bottom-up approach when it comes to connecting heritage with contemporary space and life.
In fact, a community-based approach to cultural heritage policies and programmes has already been adopted in the framework of several EU programmes. This ranges from the societal challenges of the research programme Horizon 2020, to the community-led local development included in the European Structural and Investment Funds.
This is the way to go: now and in the future. This is what we will be discussing today and tomorrow.
The place we are in demonstrates that it is possible to respond successfully to the threats and challenges of today and improve the way we understand, safeguard and manage our cultural heritage.
We have to work together, in full respect of the rules on subsidiarity, so that we can benefit fully from our shared cultural heritage as Europeans.
Our cultural heritage is an asset for all and a responsibility for all.