Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for inviting me to speak here today, at this prestigious event following up on the European Cultural heritage Summit in 2018 which I had the pleasure to attend and the Berlin Call to Action, which I gladly signed.
You have called this debate "Cultural heritage at the Heart of the Revival of Europe"- and I could not agree more with the key role of culture and cultural heritage in driving the European project. This is one of the reasons why I placed Culture as one of the priorities of my Presidency- alongside Sustainable development and Peace.
And this message resonates strongly with the motto of my Presidency "rEUnaissance- dare a sustainable Europe", a play with the words EU and the Renaissance.
As I'm speaking in France, I feel obliged to say that I did indeed put forward this idea before it became a core message of President Macron- but of course, I am thrilled that we obviously share very similar core beliefs and inspirations, as well as a joint understanding of the urgency of the situation in Europe.
For we all realise that the EU is faced with increasing challenges to which we need to find innovative solutions. Not the kind of solutions which attempt to merely patch up problems, but a true new, long-term and daring vision.
What we need is a new Renaissance for Europe, carried by a dynamic and open cultural narrative.
The historic Renaissance was a powerful and vast humanistic revolution, which linked developments in arts and culture firmly with science, the clergy, the art of government and the organisation of economic and social life, thus founding the modern transformation of Europe.
It was the cradle of Renaissance humanism, which encouraged citizens to become protagonists of their own fate, and replace superstition by critical thinking. It combined individual autonomy with active participation in a political communities- ideals which are of great importance for our societies today.
Advances in science, especially astronomy, physics and mathematics, skyrocketed. Scientists like Francis Bacon, Galileo, Rene Descartes and Isaac Newton made discoveries that would change the world.
The arts, intricately linked with science, were equally transformed and constitute the quintessence of these transformations. As the expression of the cultural and social context in which they were created, formerly thus "contemporary art", they today constitute the our heritage. They speak to us from times long past and yet close to our current preoccupations.
Monteverdi wrote great pieces which gave birth to the art of opera.
Machiavelli's writings are still influential today.
Great masterpieces were created in painting and sculpture- by Donatello, Michelangelo, to name two influential Italian artists, and, of course, last but not least, by the quintessential man of the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci.
And let us not forget the Renaissance invention of Gutenberg's printing press, which enabled access to literature and musical manuscripts for a much wider population than the prior laborious copying by hand. Indeed, this was the basis for a true artistic and cultural exchange within Europe. For Europe was a cultural space before it became a political space.
But let me be clear that when I speak of a "European cultural space", I am not implying a homogenous cultural space.
Of course, this continent thrives on difference and variation. Even the Renaissance varied from country to country, taking up and being developed by local cultural influences.
Europe has always been a continent of diversity and has integrated influences from beyond our geographical borders:
Even our founding myth, the story of the rapt of the Phoenician princess Europa is a story of migration, showing the influence of the culture of what is now the Middle East on our civilisation.
And let us not forget that much of the antique knowledge which drove Renaissance thinking had been preserved in the libraries of the Byzantine empire, without which we would have lost much of our written cultural heritage.
This history and diversity is the foundation upon which our European values are built. Human rights, equality, freedom of expression, democracy are enshrined in our cultural fabric; they are lessons learnt from our past. Even though we had to pass by many wars and violence to finally achieve Peace.
For me, it is essential that we convey this historical perspective to the citizens of Europe through Education about our histories, our cultural heritage and the arts. This history, and our manner of reflecting on our past, is what defines us as Europeans.
An understanding of our diverse and often conflictions history is a powerful tool to combat simplistic narratives and drive a common European idea.
Clearly, when we speak of cultural heritage, we need to reflect on how this heritage can be meaningful for today and the generations to come. We must enable cultural heritage to transform and innovate our societies rather than sclerose it in the fantasy of a beautiful past which in reality did not exist.
Heritage is the driver of contemporary artistic creation, of social and economic innovation- of sustainable development.
Cultural heritage offers opportunities for economic development, creating growth and jobs. I need not convince you of the impact by stating once more the facts: Cultural and creative industries are responsible for around 3.5% of all EU products and services annually, and employ 6.7 million people, or 3% of the European workforce. And the heritage sector is certainly a major factor.
Cultural heritage can help build social and territorial cohesion.
For culture and the arts have an enormous untapped potential to become a unifying and mobilising force for Europe. We share a common European heritage, composed of shared history and values, which allows us to sense our belonging to a joint space in constant evolution and openness to diversity.
Culture can help us overcome the current systemic, political and identity crisis in Europe and dare us to dream, to create new perspectives.
For we need to start dreaming again, without being bridled by fear of failure. Perhaps this, as well, is a lesson we can learn from Leonardo da Vinci: many of Leonardo's inventions did not work, but they inspired many generations to search for new solutions. What we see as challenges are only steps in a successful way forward.
An understanding and valorisation of cultural heritage, the freedom of the arts and our European values are indeed key elements of our "European Way of Life", and I am glad to see them reflected so prominently in the workplan of the new Commission.
I am also looking forward to the EESC Plenary tomorrow, which will for the first time feature a panel dedicated to Culture- for I believe that culture should also be a driving force for the EESC, voice of civil society in Europe.
For culture can bring Hope, a positive and diverse identity and a second Renaissance to Europe!