17th Jan 2019

EU heritage label scheme to drop Switzerland

  • Switzerland's Gotthard pass has the EU heritage label for linking northern and southern Europe (Photo: Flickr/Sint Smeding)

The EU commission on Tuesday (9 March) proposed to widen an existing "European heritage" label for sites related to the bloc's common history to all 27 member states

"The European heritage label will help increase public awareness of our common yet diverse cultural heritage and stimulate cultural tourism," EU culture commissioner Androulla Vassiliou said at a press conference.

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An independent panel of experts will select each year one site from a maximum of two proposals from each member country. The personnel and promotion costs will be little below €1 million a year, Ms Vassiliou said, adding that the potential economic benefits from the resulting cultural tourism will be much bigger.

She explained that the proposal would build on an existing scheme set up in 2006 by 17 EU countries and which have already awarded the label to 62 sites ranging from the historic Polish shipyard in Gdansk, where the anti-Communist Solidarnosc movement emerged, to the house where Robert Schuman was born, the French statesman who is considered one of the "founding fathers" of what later became the European Union.

The list, largely full of archeological and religious monuments, also includes the Portuguese national archives for being the first European depository of a death penalty abolition law.

Austria, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg and the UK are not participating in the scheme at this stage, but may opt to do so later.

The existing scheme also includes Switzerland, a non-EU member participating in the bloc's common economic and border-free area. It was last year awarded the "European heritage" label for three of its cultural and historic sites.

Since the new label will be an EU-only initiative, Bern will no longer be part of future selections. But Ms Vassiliou stressed that the existing sites will not be stripped of their heritage label.

The commission will review all existing sites every six years and check if they respect the rules, which still need to be outlined.

"We were invited to join this inter-governmental initiative and are happy to continue participation for these three sites. What is important for us is that the label is not removed," Oliver Gerber, Switzerland's culture envoy to the EU told this website. Bern is now analysing the commission proposal and its future implications, he added.

One of the sites is St Peter's cathedral in Geneva, the home church of the 16-century reformist Jean Calvin, one of the central figures in Europe's protestant era, along Germany's Martin Luther.

The mountain pass of Gotthard, linking Germany to Italy, has also been awarded the "European heritage" label for being "an emblem of European mobility." The hospice overseeing the pass is also included in the label, for having played various roles in the continent's long history of armed conflicts. Last century, the hospice was one of the main bastions of defence against the Nazis.

The third Swiss site included in the list is the 11th century castle of La Sarraz, which hosted the first international conference on modern architecture back in 1928.

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