This policy brief analyses the competences and potential of the EU in the field of cultural heritage protection. Despite numerous references to culture and heritage in the EU treaties, the analysis suggests that the Union’s focus on cultural heritage remains limited and does not adequately reflect the magnitude of recent challenges.
In the last decade of financial and economic difficulties, Europe’s cultural heritage has suffered from major funding cuts. This is now being compounded by the devastating consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on the culture and heritage sectors. Climate change also represents a growing threat to cultural sites across the EU, and the successes of right-wing Eurosceptic populism have changed the politics of cultural heritage. The EU is routinely portrayed as a remote post-national technocracy bent on overcoming separate national identities and lacking a commitment to the continent’s common historical heritage.
This paper argues that all these developments have created the conditions for considerable ‘European added value’—economic, social and political—to be realised by stepping up EU action for the protection of the continent’s cultural heritage. Currently ongoing negotiations for the next EU Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF 2021–7) and for the post-COVID-19 recovery fund that is tied to it (the ‘Next Generation EU’ initiative) offer a unique opportunity to advance this important agenda.