Prime Minister Rama,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Ten months after the earthquake of 26 November, the tragedy and destruction that struck Albania are still in everyone’s mind.
Families, friends and communities have suffered losses that are still being mourned.
Of the earthquake, also remains the damage done to Albania’s cultural heritage. We were all struck by the images of the collapsed 5th century byzantine walls of Durres.
There is something especially touching in seeing centuries-old constructions being damaged. Monuments and symbols of culture speak of shared roots and of connection with generations and civilisations past. Their destruction affects directly our identity and sense of belonging.
The assessment of the damage led by the European Union after the earthquake concluded that 53 museums, monuments or cultural sites are endangered and classified as high or medium risk. In addition, collections were damaged through the breaking or cracking of artefacts.
Cultural heritage is our bridge to the past – it is also our bridge to the future. Its protection and reconstruction have huge symbolic power, helping rebuild hope and communities.
One of the strengths of the European Union is precisely our ability to preserve our past, while building the future together.
This is why I am so proud today to announce that the European Union is bringing 40 million Euros to support the reconstruction, rehabilitation and valorisation of the Albanian cultural heritage damaged by the earthquake.
We have called this programme: EU4Culture.
EU4Culture will be implemented by the United Nations Office for Project Services. UNOPS, with their expertise of implementing complex projects efficiently, is the best partner to implement EU4Culture. I look forward to an excellent partnership with UNOPS that will carry us for the next 3 to 4 years.
EU4Culture is one of the largest ever cultural heritage programmes designed by the European Union in terms of number of monuments and of funds involved.
It is also a unique, probably once-in-a-lifetime chance for the Albanian cultural heritage sector. Here, I would like to thank Minister Margariti and her staff for an exemplary cooperation so far.
Of course, the programme will be implemented with the participation of the Albanian cultural heritage community – historians, archaeologists or architects of invaluable knowledge. There is also a lot of expertise in our Member States, the quality whose archaeological missions is recognised by all.
The list of monuments and sites that EU4Culture will focus on will be finalised after consultations and a thorough assessment. However, I can already tell you that it will include museums, such as the Archaeological Museum where we are gathered today and the National Gallery of Art in Tirana. It will also include important sites such as the Durres Amphitheatre, as well as castles and religious monuments.
In the 4th century, a powerful earthquake destroyed the defences of Dyrrachium, as Durres was called at the time. Anastasius I, the byzantine Emperor born in this city, rebuilt and strengthened the city walls, creating the strongest fortifications in the Western Balkans.
The same spirit of innovation should guide the programme. All reconstructions will follow the “Build Back Better” principle, applying environmentally friendly norms and rebuilding stronger, safer and more disaster-resilient.
In addition, EU4Culture will enhance the valorisation of the sites. It will improve landscaping, site management, visitors' facilities and digitalisation of collections.
As the world has entered an economic crisis of catastrophic scale, some might think that investing on cultural heritage is not a priority and should come last. Not the European Union. We are convinced that culture matters to our economy as much as it matters to our identity.
In Albania, cultural heritage will be an essential ingredient for the country’s socio-economic recovery. It is one of the few areas where well-planned investments can generate the highest economic return and drive local economic development
EU4Culture will promote a touristic offer that is more sustainable, more diversified and less seasonal. In the current context, I don’t think the EU and Its Member States could make a better investment in a country that is destined to come back in the family soon.
Ladies and gentlemen,
After the earthquake, the European Union was by the side of Albania from Day 1. The EU deployed in few hours search and rescue operations, structural engineers and in-kind assistance. Then the Post Disaster Needs Assessment served as the basis for the donors’ conference in Brussels – with a record pledge of €1.15 billion
The European Commission is donating 115 million euros in direct grants. It is divided between EU4Culture and its twin programme, EU4Schools, which provides 75 million euros for the repair and reconstruction of schools.
This of course does not include the extraordinary bilateral assistance of our Member States.
There is simply not a single moment in the past 10 months when the European Union was not on the frontline to help Albania.
One word summarises our commitment: solidarity.
Solidarity of the European Union with one of its closest neighbours. Solidarity with a future Member State. And quite simply, solidarity with our fellow Europeans in Albania.
Investing in cultural heritage is not only essential to the identity of a country, it relates to the common history of its broader region and continent.
No other place symbolises our shared history and belonging than Durres. Durres the first Greek colony in the Adriatic Sea, whose system of government was discussed by Plato. Durres the Roman, where Caesar came to fight and Hadrian to build. Durres the Illyrian, the Byzantine, the Bulgarian, the Venetian.
Layers upon layers of European history under our feet.
Your history is our history. Helping you preserve Albania’s heritage is an economic chance, a common responsibility, but also a moral and historical duty towards previous and future generations of Europeans.