European Union External Action

Remarks by the HR/VP on Protecting cultural heritage from terrorism and mass atrocities: links and common responsibilities

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First of all, thank you. It is very good to be here among friends, with so many others with whom we share this work. This is an issue that is particularly dear to me – as an Italian, as a European, I would say as a human being. And I think that we do it because it is the right thing to do, it is the necessary thing to do, but also because we have a strong belief in the fact that working on protecting cultural heritage is something that improves us as human beings and societies and cultures across the world.

The world's cultural heritage needs the protection of our foreign policy. It is not just a matter for culture ministers, it is also a security and foreign policy matter. Our foreign policy needs to recognise the power of culture and cultural heritage. Culture can open new channels and facilitate mutual understanding. And we all see how much this world needs understanding and channels of communication. It can help bring peace and reconciliation inside divided communities. It can also be a resource for our economies, in Europe and beyond.

These basic ideas are now driving our European foreign policy – also thank to the cooperation and the leadership of our friends in Italy.

For the first time ever – and I understand can be a surprise for many as it was for me - the European Union now has a strategy on international cultural relations proposed by the European Commission and myself and supported by the European Parliament and the Council. It might sound incredible that we Europeans didn't have one before.

A strategy might sound as an abstract thing, a paper, a document. It’s not. It is already shaping up our action in very concrete terms. And I would like to mention a couple of examples to go to real things we are already doing.

First. Since the strategy was adopted, we have worked to ensure that the protection of cultural heritage becomes part of the mandate of all our European Union's military and civilian missions. We have 15 of them around the world. We have worked in these months to make sure that they take this aspect of their work into consideration. And I am proud to announce today that we have decided to appoint "Cultural Property Protection Experts" in our Missions. This is a concrete step that is going to make a change on the ground. The first of them will be deployed in Iraq, as part of our new civilian mission there, as early as next month to support local security forces and our own men and women on the ground to protect cultural heritage and cultural goods.

So, protection is our first very practical priority that is turning into reality next month already.

Second. It's the restoration of destroyed and damaged cultural heritage to preserve memory, to make sure that identity and history are not deleted, to transmit culture, but also to promote reconciliation. The European Union currently supports  with financing butalso with technical expertise projects to restore many important sites, from the Sarajevo City Hall, to the Timbuktu mausoleum and the heritage damaged by the earthquake in Nepal. And I could continue with a long list. Just last week, the Commission adopted a new €2million programme to restore cultural and religious sites in Kosovo. 

The third priority is the fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural goods. We have to break the circle there. We have seen reports that valuable artworks, sculptures and archaeological artefacts are being sold and imported into the European Union and elsewhere. And we know these profits are sometimes used to finance terrorist activities.

The UN Security Council has adopted resolutions on this matter and we have responded by prohibiting the import of cultural artefacts from Iraq and Syria. In July this year, we have proposed to go further, and we proposed to prohibit the import of all illicit cultural goods.

Protecting cultural heritage so it is part of our fight against terrorism. A coherent element of our strategy. It is also about the economy, it is about tourism, it is about development, sustainable development and it is about peace and reconciliation.

We believe that for too long, culture has been treated as a side issue, a sort of niche, for experts and artists. Things have changed today, for sure in Europe, as we are making them change together, through especially strong partnerships with our international institutions.

I always say that there is a European way to foreign policy – based on multilateralism, investment in the UN system, on cooperation, on the smartest possible mix of hard and soft power. And I am proud to say todaythat culture has come to the heart of our foreign policy,of  the European way of building security. Thank you.

Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I143813