Cultural Heritage Counts for Europe Concluding Conference
12 June 2015 at the University of Oslo in Norway

Address by Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport to attendees during the opening session.



(Check against delivery)

Ladies and gentlemen,


Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport speaking at the Cultural Heritage Counts for Europe concluding conference in Oslo on 12 June 2015.

Yesterday, at the Oslo City Hall, I took part in the celebration of the European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage/Europa Nostra Award for the first time. It was inspiring. We paid tribute to the many experts and volunteers who safeguard the values embodied in our cultural heritage so that it can be passed on to future generations.

Today, in this magnificent aula, surrounded by Edward Munch’s masterpieces, we will reflect more on those very values. We will look at the benefits that the project “Cultural Heritage Counts for Europe” has identified. Benefits for European culture, the environment, the economy and for society as a whole.

For all of us here, there is no doubt that heritage matters. It is the soul of our cities and the source of our identity. But we all know too well that many people are indifferent to cultural heritage, or simply not aware of its value.

This is a real problem. We are so used to what surrounds us – the historic environment, the archaeological sites – that we may forget that heritage needs a lot of care to survive.

It is sad, but we seem to appreciate its value most when it is under threat. This is the case today, not so far from here. Like you, I am appalled when I see the terrible destruction of heritage in countries like Iraq and Syria. These are unacceptable attacks on the culture of those countries and on the people who live there. But let me be clear: These crimes are also attacks on our shared values as human beings, wherever we happen to live.

Then there are other, less violent threats to heritage. Wherever investment in cultural and heritage policies is reduced, heritage is in danger. Unfortunately, because of the economic crisis, we see this happen a lot. We need swift action – and an evidence-based approach to cultural policy-making.

A wealth of studies highlights the significant contribution of the heritage sector to economic and social development. We know that cultural heritage can boost other economic sectors. Tourism, for instance, is estimated to contribute EUR 415 billion to the EU’s Gross domestic product. 3.4 million tourism enterprises account for 15.2 million jobs – many are linked to heritage, directly or indirectly.

But these are only partial estimates. EU-wide comparable data are still lacking. And in modern policy-making, a lack of data is fatal. As cultural operators know, when it comes to convincing decision makers to invest in culture, even the most compelling data may not be a guarantee of success. However, without any data, you are bound to fail from the start.

This is what makes “Cultural Heritage Counts for Europe” so important. I would like to thank the consortium for helping to fill this gap. Your project provides a much-awaited mapping of the research carried out at the European, national, regional and sectoral levels. You are helping to build the case for heritage in a solid and rigorous manner.

Now we can prove that the regeneration of urban sites attracts investment and creates jobs. Look at what happened at the Zsnolnay Cultural Quarter in Pecs or the Temple Bar in Dublin. And the high returns of investing in heritage are certified by a study by the World Bank.

All available evidence confirms that heritage is a strategic resource for a sustainable Europe. EU Member States clearly and explicitly recognised this last year.

But this is not enough. We need to enhance our policy action at all levels, including the European one.

This was the European Commission’s intention last year, when we published our strategy “Towards an integrated approach to heritage policies”. We proposed a way forward for enriching the value of cultural heritage further. This vision, which owes a lot to my predecessor Androulla Vassiliou’s commitment, has been fully endorsed by the new Commission. It will be our roadmap for the next five years.

New funding opportunities are supporting this approach, with programmes such as Creative Europe, Horizon2020, Erasmus+ and our structural funds.

And with actions like the European Capitals of Culture, the European Heritage Label, the European Heritage Days – and of course the European Heritage Awards – we are stimulating the whole cycle of cultural production and preservation. We are promoting high standards and high-quality skills in conservation practice. We are engaging Europe’s citizens in a deeper reflection on the roots and the meaning of European identity.

The main challenge now is to take advantage of these opportunities. It is time to develop a truly integrated approach to heritage, maximising the impact of heritage policies on the local economy and society. This is one of my priorities.

We have just started work with Member States on improving the governance of heritage policies. Good governance can contribute to a virtuous cycle of economic growth and social progress. But for this, public and private actors, local communities and stakeholders must all be active in managing and maintaining heritage.

We are identifying innovative models for participatory governance for cultural heritage. There is a wealth of good practices across the EU from which we can learn. I am confident that this work will be extremely useful.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

When Edward Munch decorated this aula, he wanted to create an artwork which was both distinctively Norwegian and universally human. The Alma Mater who nurtures her children with knowledge and the old man recounting his memories to a fascinated little boy remind us that it is not enough for the monuments of the past to be standing if their meaning is lost.

The knowledge embodied in those monuments must be preserved as well. It must be transmitted to the next generations. This is a task for every single one of us. Thanks to this project, we are one step closer to achieving it.

Thank you.


This speech was originally published on the European Commission’s website here.