Europe has been a cultural project from the outset. The European Year of Cultural Heritage in 2018 is an excellent opportunity to celebrate this.
What is more, it is also an opportunity to recall that, far from simply being about the past, our heritage actually has a vital role in building the Europe of the future. We will see a large number of events all across Europe doing just that.
The European Year of Cultural Heritage is about reaching out to people and giving them the opportunity to discover and explore our heritage in all its forms - regardless of their location or their background.
It is about raising awareness of our common history and values, creating mutual understanding of our sometimes differing points of view and reinforcing a sense of belonging to a European family.
Often, when people think of cultural heritage, what they have in mind are the traditions of one’s given society, and the physical legacy of the past that can be found in one country or region.
However, our European heritage is in fact the result of the contributions of many different cultures. It was built over a long period of time and also across many borders.
In my home country, there are many examples of this multi-layered history, such as the banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrássy Avenue, the Christian Necropolis of Pecs as well as the Synagogue in Subotica.
At European level, the Commission will work with all institutions to make the Year a success, starting with the Parliament, which has been so supportive of this initiative.
Throughout 2018, the Commission will run specific projects that will contribute to the Year’s political legacy. For instance, we are preparing activities targeting schools. The European Solidarity Corps will offer young people the opportunity to help preserve or restore cultural heritage.
I saw for myself earlier this year how much this can help local communities, when I went to Norcia, Italy, with Parliament President Antonio Tajani. There, we met young volunteers supporting the rebuilding of the historic Basilica of San Benedetto - and helping local residents get through a difficult period.
The Year will also give a fresh boost to the European Heritage Days, a key initiative bringing together up to 30 million participants around Europe every year.
Another initiative will aim at promoting smart ways and good practices to transform Europe’s industrial, religious and military heritage for new users.
During the Year, the Commission will work towards finding the right balance between promoting quality in conservation and safeguarding and supporting dynamic approaches to restoration and maintenance, innovative re-use and enhancement of cultural heritage.
In addition, through a dedicated call under the EU’s Creative Europe programme, €5m is being devoted to supporting transnational projects that help engage with cultural heritage.
But the most important thing is that the Year will belong to Europe’s citizens - from heritage professionals to heritage followers and all those who will discover it for the first time during 2018. That is why most of the action will happen closest to citizens, nationally and locally.
I truly believe that cultural heritage is the most valuable European resource that we have inherited from the past, which can and must help us face the future together.
This is my key message for the Year and I am particularly keen on creating this bridge from the past to the future by focusing on future generations - children and young people.
Developing children’s curiosity about their roots will perhaps be the Year’s greatest challenge but also its most important legacy.
We will launch the European Year of Cultural Heritage in December at our Cultural Forum in Milan. The Forum, organised every two years, is an important element of cooperation in the cultural field. Since 2009, it has been bringing together the cultural sector’s key players to debate EU culture policy and initiatives.
These range from heritage experts to young creative entrepreneurs, from artists to people advocating for culture on all political levels, from local activists to important international cultural organisations.
That is why this year’s Forum is also an ideal place to initiate a discussion on the vision that the Commission is developing for our cooperation in culture and education up to 2025.
We outlined our ambitious objectives in our recent communication on strengthening European identity through education and culture – our contribution to a debate on the topic by EU Leaders at the Social Summit in Gothenburg on 17 November.
Heads of state and government also agreed that culture and cultural heritage are the most vivid expression of the strength of European’s common identity and values. For this reason, they will play a crucial role in uniting the EU and making it stronger and more democratic.
Culture has a unique power to bring us together, to help us get to know each other, understand our differences and appreciate what we share. The European Year of Cultural Heritage is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate this and to reaffirm its central place in the European project - and citizens’ daily lives.