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EESC announces five finalists for its 2018 Civil Society Prize

In the European Year of Cultural Heritage, the EESC will be rewarding civil society projects that demonstrate the power of culture and common values to reunite Europe.

For its 2018 Civil Society Prize, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) will choose a winner from among five non-profit organisations – two from Germany and one each from Greece, Italy, and the UK. Their inspiring projects have been shortlisted from 150 entrants for the award, which this year celebrates European identities, values and cultural heritage as a unifying force for Europe.

The winner and the ranking of the four runners-up will be announced at the award ceremony on 13 December, during the EESC plenary session in Brussels. The EUR 50 000 cash prize will be shared among the five shortlisted projects in order to further boost their community-oriented work.

The contest attracted applications from no fewer than 27 EU Member States, testifying to the huge enthusiasm of civil society from all corners of the EU to honour Europe's diverse identities, promote its rich cultural heritage and reassert core European values against growing isolationist voices and recent fear-based narratives.

The five short-listed applications are (in alphabetical order):

Balkans Beyond Borders short film festival (BBB-SFF), from Greece: an annual film festival featuring cross-border and international film productions involving both EU Member States and candidate countries from the Balkans. The aim is to support the latter's cultural integration with Europe and to use art as an empowering force for overcoming differences embedded in the region's history.

Eco-Museum, by the Italian social cooperative Aria Nuova: an initiative which helps mental health patients from residential units to gain new insights into art and culture. By taking them to cultural and heritage sites and later enabling them to creatively express the gained aesthetic experiences in participatory laboratories, the initiative reduces their sense of isolation and removes barriers to their social inclusion, thus asserting the universal right to culture.

Safe Passage, a UK organisation, opens up safe and legal routes for refugee children to places where they can start a new life. In its campaign commemorating Kindertransport, a mass rescue effort from the 1930s in which British communities took in children fleeing Nazi persecution, Safe Passage draws parallels with the current situation, thereby exploring issues of European identity and values in the hope of creating a permanent legacy of protection for child refugees in Europe.

SWANS, a German initiative, organises career and leadership seminars for top female university students from immigrant families and for women of colour, with the aim of helping them get the job they deserve. It hopes to contribute to creating a more inclusive job market in line with Europe's diverse identities and values, and to empower this group of women who are often discriminated against.

Tastes of Danube – Bread Connects – a project by Danube Networkers for Europe from Germany uses the topic of bread as intangible cultural heritage that unites European people in their diversity. By organising bread-baking activities and festivals that are open to people of all ages, ethnicities and social backgrounds, the project hopes to raise awareness of common cultural roots in the Danube area and Europe.

The EESC President Luca Jahier made culture one of the priorities of his presidency, which started in April 2018. Commenting on the prize, he said: "Europe's cultural heritage and values have huge untapped potential as a force of unity, while the multiplicity of identities within Europe imbues us with an openness to diversity. These elements will be vital in healing our divisions and overcoming the dissatisfaction that provides fertile ground for nationalism."

“Renewed emphasis on our cultural heritage", Mr Jahier concluded, "can bring about what, in my view, Europe needs – a second Renaissance".

Both individuals and non-profit organisations are able to compete for the EESC Civil Society Prize, which this year marks its landmark 10th edition. It is awarded for "excellence in civil society initiatives" and a different theme is chosen each year, covering an important area of the EESC's work.

Previous editions were dedicated to innovative entrepreneurship championing labour market integration of disadvantaged groups, solidarity with migrants and combating poverty.