Written by Aleksandra Kozieł
The European Union is now a recognisable economic and political cooperation of 28 countries. Historically it was known as European Coal and Steel Community, followed by European Communities and officially established as European Union by Maastricht Treaty. Since the very beginning it focused on economic cooperation, then on political aspects; it was not well-known for its cooperation over cultural issues. But can the EU be responsible for cultural heritage of its member states?
The first decades of the European Coal and Steel Community, then the European Communities were absolutely not focused on cultural matters. In fact, the importance of cultural integration was pushed aside over economy, but with the time passing by member states started to realise that the cooperation cannot be built only on the economical factors. Within years the topic of common heritage was slowly injected into the European policy. Politicians started to realise that common aims might be better understood by citizens of the EU in relation to common past and defining the common heritage. That’s how the idea of the European Heritage Label was created.
Can we define one moment in the timeline of building common heritage in the EU when it all started? Not clearly. But the EHL initiative was first discussed in 2005, when the first ideas appeared during Rencontres pour l’Europe de la Culture talks. But year 2006 is more often recognised as the landmark in creating common European initiative. The person who stood behind intergovernmental action was French Minister of Culture, Rennaud Donnedieu de Vabres. He suggested that it is necessary for Europeans to have a common reference point to identify with the European citizenship, idea still abstract for many people. The best and easiest way to provide common point within the European community was a reference to the widely understood European heritage.
However, the first intergovernmental list of European Heritage Label objects consisted of objects from only 18 member states. Inauguration of the initiative took place 50 years after signing Treaties of Rome, the official treaties that brought to life the European Coal and Steel Community in 1957. That’s when the first 3 objects received European Heritage Label title. Those 3 first inscriptions, Cluny Abbey, R. Shuman’s house in Sey-Chazelles and Papal palace in Avignon, were extended by inscription of the Acropolis the day after. Finally, the first inscription list contained 68 objects.
In 2008 the initiative was changed a bit. The new decision was taken, changing intergovernmental initiative into official initiative of the European Union, thus invalidating previous arrangements. The objects were supposed to be reported once again, meaning the repetition of all the steps done before. It caused bitter response, because not all the objects that received the title the first time were recognised again. After this new beginning the initiative started moving forward with official legal acts by the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. The main document, The decision of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing UE action for the European Heritage Label, became the basis for the initiative.
The main question is what actually is the European Heritage Label title? How does it distinct the objects from many other objects equally important from the point of view of heritage? Also some may ask how it differs from the UNESCO World Heritage List? The idea of European Heritage Label is supposed to acknowledge lieux de mémoire, symbols of european integration, common history, culture and values for many EU countries. The objects are supposed to strengthen the feeling of european citizenship. Nowadays, with the identity crisis, the common values are supposed to motivate and stimulate member states to act together and achieve common goals.
The first initiative jumped the gun and the change depreciated the general idea. The idea that is good, what is worth to highlight. Slowly developing, it can grow and strengthen and, what is really important right now, gain international recognition. The recognition is what is missing in the European Heritage Label. Nevertheless, the next few years will show whether this initiative succeeds.