Brussels polticians endorse EU ‘Heritage’ rubber stamp

The European Parliament has, recently, endorsed the European Commission’s proposal for a Decision creating a “European Heritage Label.” To Brussels, neither the UNESCOWorld Heritage List nor the Council of Europe’s European Cultural Routes are enough, as it has to have its own Heritage Label. Unlike the World Heritage sites, the European Heritage sites would not be chosen according to their beauty or arquitecture but “on the basis of their European symbolic value.

It is important to recall that such an initiative already exists at an intergovernmental level. The proposal transforms the existing intergovernmental European Heritage Label into EU formal action. The Member States’ participation will continue to be voluntary.

According to the Commission, having the “European Heriage Label” as an EU initiative “would bring clear added value and produce benefits that could not be achieved by Member States acting alone, even with financial support from the European Union.” The Commission believes that the European Label will “enhance the value and the profile of sites which have played a key role in the history and the building of the European Union (…)” This is another disguise to brainwash people about EU integration. The label is aimed at highlighting “sites that celebrate and symbolize European integration, ideals and history”, promoting “new opportunities to learn about Europe’s cultural heritage and the democratic values underpinning European history and integration” as well as “increased awareness of European cultural tourism, bringing economic benefits.” The initiative’s main aim is to “strengthen European citizens’ sense of belonging to Europe and to promote a sense of European identity by improving knowledge of Europe’s shared history and heritage, especially among young people.” One thing is promoting knowledge of Europe’s shared history and heritage other is using it as an excuse to promote EU integration. Yes, there is a gap between the EU and its citizens but this is not due, as Brussels is trying to say, to a “a lack of knowledge of the history of Europe, of the role of the European Union and of the values on which it is based.

The Commission’s proposal introduces a new selection criteria and new selection and monitoring procedures. Under the Commission proposal the “European Heritage Label” would be awarded to sites that “have a symbolic European value” and “have played a key role in the history and the building of the European Union.” Member States would have to justify the cross-border or pan-European nature of the sites as well as their role “in European history and European integration” or their role “in the development and promotion of the common values that underpin European integration such as freedom, democracy, respect for human rights, cultural diversity, tolerance and solidarity.”

No one can deny the significance of the House of Robert Schuman in France, in EU history. However, having a look at the list of sites in the framework of the intergovernmental European Heritage Label one could say that most of the sites have nothing to do with EU history but European history whilst others just have a national dimension. Consequently, awarding an EU label to such sites may well give misleading information, particularly to targeted young people. When applying for the label Member States must commit to promoting the “European Dimension” of the site including “raising awareness on the European significance of the site” by organising “information and educational activities.” Moreover, the label candidates must commit to undertake “the promotion of sites as tourist destinations” and “developing a coherent and comprehensive communication strategy highlighting the European significance of the site.

The pre-selection stage would take place at national level, and each Member State may select two sites per year. The MEPs have voted for selection to take place every two years and not once per year, as proposed by the Commission. The final selection would take place at EU level. A “panel of independent experts” composed of members nominated by the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission would be set up to choose, each year, between the pre-selected sites, one site per Member State. Then, the European Commission would officially award to those sites the “European Heritage Label.” However, several Member States would prefer the decision of which sites are to be awarded the label to be taken by the Council.

The sites awarded the label in the framework of the intergovernmental European Heritage Label would have to submit another application on the basis of the new criteria and procedures laid down in the present proposal. Nevertheless, the Commission has proposed a transitional procedure to cover the situation of sites awarded a label under the intergovernmental initiative. However, the European Parliament voted against the Commission’s original proposal. Therefore, according to the MEPs Member States must re-apply for the new label. But, severalMember sSates would prefer to have existing sites included in the new scheme without the need to reapply again.

The UK Government has not showed an interest in participating in such scheme. The European Heritage label initiative has a low budget, but, even so, EUR 1.975.000 will come out of the EU budget for the period from January 2011 until December 2013. It is foreseen that EU taxpayers will pay around €1 million a year for the costs of the European panel of experts, for the promotion of the label including EU propaganda, as well as for the employment of officials and temporary agents at the European Commission.

Another point of controversy is the source of the funds to be allocated to the scheme for 2013. According to the European Commission such funds would come from the margins of the EU budget whereas several Member States believe that the margins should only be used in exceptional circumstances.

The proposal goes through the ordinary legislative procedure and the Council will now examine the Parliament’s amendments. Whereas before the Lisbon Treaty, unanimity was required at the Council to adopt measures in the cultural field, now it is just through QMV.

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