The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) awarded on 13 December five civil society organisations for their outstanding projects that reassert European values, celebrate the diversity of Europe's many identities and promote cultural heritage as a way of bringing Europeans together again.
German project "Tastes of Danube – Bread Connects", run by the non-profit organisation Danube-Networkers for Europe (DANET), took home the first prize of EUR 14 000. The other four initiatives, SWANS from Germany, Eco Museum from Italy, Safe Passage from the UK and Balkans Beyond Borders from Greece each received EUR 9 000.
"During the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018, the EESC hopes that this prize will raise awareness of Europe's cultural wealth and of the multiplicity and richness of European identities. It wants to promote projects that strengthen a common sense of belonging and meaning through and with diversity. It wants to increase the visibility of the many projects all over Europe promoting European values such as respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law. Last but not least, it wants to thank those individuals and organisations who fight on a daily basis for a Europe based on these values," said the EESC president Luca Jahier at the award ceremony in Brussels.
The idea behind DANET's winning project "Tastes of Danube – Bread Connects" is to have people experience bread as a form of intangible cultural heritage that they all share and that unites them in their diversity. As part of the project, bread-baking activities and festivals were organised in different Danube countries, bringing together people of different ages, ethnicities and social backgrounds.
While its registered office is in Germany, DANET is an umbrella organisation of various non-profit educational organisations and experts from Danube countries such as Austria, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Hungary. As a non-profit association promoting innovative learning and social participation of all citizens, DANET hopes its project will raise awareness about the common cultural roots in the Danube Region and in Europe, sparking dialogue and strengthening the bonds between Europe's different generations and cultures.
Accepting the prize, DANET's president Carmen Stadelhofer said: "Bread has always been a symbol of community and sharing. With our project, we want to break down barriers and do something for a solidarity-based, peaceful Europe. We work from the grassroots and try to involve everyone. We bring together different ethnic groups that otherwise may not meet. We bring together elderly and young people and include those that may have difficulties in finding their place in society. This prize is a huge recognition and honour for many organisations and people involved in this project."
Watch the video detailing the winning projects here.
Another winning entry is the SWANS initiative, the first of its kind in Germany. It is run by a group of female volunteers who organise career and leadership seminars for high-potential female university students from immigrant families and for women of colour, with the aim of helping them get the job they deserve and to end discrimination against them on the job market.
The prize winning project from Italy, Eco Museum, is run by the social cooperative Aria Nuova. It helps mental health patients from residential units to experience art and culture first hand, asserting that the right to culture is universal.
The cultural campaign "80 years on, child refugees still need Safe Passage", by the UK organisation Safe Passage, strives to win stronger public support for today's youngest refugees, by comparing the present day situation with Kindertransport, a mass rescue operation during World War Two, in which British citizens took in children fleeing Nazi persecution. Safe Passage has so far helped over 1 500 children to reach sanctuary via safe and legal routes.
The Greek winner is a short film festival run by the organisation Balkans Beyond Borders. The festival takes place each year in a different Balkan city, featuring work by filmmakers from the Balkans and beyond and using art as an empowering force for overcoming differences rooted in the region's turbulent past.
The EESC Civil Society Prize, which is in its landmark 10th edition this year, attracted 150 candidates from no fewer than 27 EU Member States, testifying to the huge enthusiasm of civil society from all corners of the EU to promote European values and cultural heritage. With the prize, the EESC hopes to boost the community-oriented work of the organisations and individuals given awards.
The prize 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. The 2017 Prize was dedicated to "innovative entrepreneurship championing labour market integration of disadvantaged groups".