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It is a great pleasure for me to be with you here today at this important Plenary Session of the Crans Montana Forum. We came together here in order to discuss intercultural dialogue and the development of cultural heritage in the Euro Mediterranean area and the role that local and regional authorities play in this respect in re-launching of Barcelona Process. As the Chairman of the Commission for External Relations of the Committee of the Regions of the European Union, I will focus on the cultural dimension of the Barcelona Process and underline the important role that cities, provinces and regions play in this field.

The countries around the Mediterranean have strong cultural links that have developed throughout history through intellectual exchanges, commerce but unfortunately also through armed conflicts. At the same time, each country has its own cultural specificities and there are many different cultural traditions, religious practices, opinions and values. In today’s globalized world, the mobility and interactions between citizens from the various countries of the Mediterranean and their various cultures, languages, ethnic groups and religions are increasing as a result of the growing economic exchanges and trade, old and new migratory flows and more significant exchanges through education and leisure as well as tourism. One the one hand, these increased interactions between different cultures are an enrichment and can lead to better knowledge of each other. The European Union always supported the unity in the diversity, and I believe that such an approach could bring positive results also within EUROMED area.

The promotion of intercultural dialogue in the Euro-Mediterranean area is of vital importance, since it is a key instrument in promoting political dialogue and understanding and since it contributes to the aim of bringing peace, stability and prosperity to the region. Intercultural dialogue can promote greater mutual understanding and help to get familiar with differences in cultural traditions, religious practice and historic backgrounds. Furthermore, intercultural dialogue can foster the ability to communicate between different cultural groups and to take part in civic society. Intercultural dialogue can also assist in alleviating the social exclusion, isolation and marginalisation of disadvantaged social groups.

As far as the relations between the European Union and the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean in the framework of the Barcelona Process are concerned, the rapprochement between peoples through social, cultural and human partnerships has been an aim since its creation in 1995. In the Barcelona Declaration, the dialogue between cultures is the core of the third chapter called ‘Partnership in social, cultural and human affairs’. Since then, several cultural programmes and initiatives have been launched that aim at strengthening intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding. Let me mention but a few of these.

The Euromed Heritage programme was the first initiative funded by the MEDA instrument that focused on the preservation and development of cultural heritage. It was launched in 1998 and provided funding for projects that improve the access to heritage, supports the exchange of experience between actors who protect heritage and supports the transfer of know-how and other initiatives in the field of tourism. Under the EU’s current financial framework 2007-2013, the MEDA programme has been replace by the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument, and the funding of activities for the development of Euro-Mediterranean cultural heritage continues under the programme Euromed Heritage IV.

In order to promote mutual understanding, intercultural dialogue and solidarity between young people, the Euro-Mediterranean partnership established the Euromed Youth Programme which supports exchanges between young people from the Europe and the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean. In addition, there are programmes to enhance gender equality and to promote the participation of women in the economic life of the EU-Mediterranean region. The European Commission also promotes the involvement of civil society into social and cultural life in this area by funding meetings of civil society originations in the framework of so-called “Euromed Civil Forums”.

In order to strengthen the cultural and social dimension and to give it greater visibility, the governments of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership created the “Anna Lindh Euro-Mediterranean Foundation for the Dialogue between Cultures” in 2005. Based in Alexandria, its main objective is to bring people and organizations from all the countries around the Mediterranean closer together and to promote dialogue, mutual understanding and tolerance.

Despite these various programmes, the cultural dimension of the Barcelona Process never got the attention it deserved neither in political nor in financial terms and the various initiatives reached far too little people. As far as funding is concerned 400 million Euro have been earmarked for cultural and education activities for the EU’s financial period 2007-2013. At first sight, this might seem a high sum. However, given that this is spread out over seven years and covers the whole Euro-Mediterranean area, this sum turns out quite modest for the fact that intercultural dialogue is one of the three priorities of the Barcelona Process. Against this background, we need to call on policy-makers to make the Euro-Mediterranean partnership contain more than political and economic relations. It must be also a cultural partnership that also makes the human dimension a priority and promotes the rapprochement between peoples through concrete commitments in the field of intercultural dialogue.

I would like to stress that in its recently published communication of the European Commission on “Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean”, the European Commission admits itself that the cultural dimension of the partnership needs to get a new impetus.

Local and regional authorities are very close to the grassroots level and are therefore well placed to respond to the specific needs and demands of the different cultural groups in the Euro-Mediterranean area and can effectively mobilise local and regional communities to promote greater intercultural dialogue. Through this proximity to the citizens local and regional authorities are also able to ensure widest access possible to cultural activities. Furthermore, they can encourage good cooperation between all relevant actors in the cultural sector, in particular education and training establishments, NGOs, and organisations in the field of youth, sports, cultural and religion. Furthermore, local and regional authorities contribute to the promotion of intercultural dialogue through cooperation programmes between regions and/or municipalities and town twinnings.

As a result of migration, many European societies are multi-lingual, multi-ethnic and multi-religious and cities and regions play an important role in promote inclusion and integration. Through their proximity to citizens, local and regional authorities are able to respond to the specific needs and demands of the different cultural groups. In addition, they can launch specific measures that aim at integration and that promote better understanding: Moreover, they can help to promote inclusion by cooperation with actors in other policy sectors such as education, training, and employment.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We came here together today to discuss the importance of intercultural dialogue and the development of cultural heritage in the Euro-Mediterranean area and the important role of local and regional authorities in this respect. Intercultural dialogue is a vital instrument to build bridges between the societies of all shores of the Mediterranean and to enhance respect for each others’ cultures and differences. Given its relative neglect in the past years, there is a great need to step-up the cultural dimension of the Barcelona Process, and this is only possible through concrete projects and commitments. The Committee of the Regions of the European Union will play a very important role in this respect and have developed an invaluable experience in this field. Therefore, the role of local and regional authorities needs to be increased in the renewed Barcelona process so as to make it a holistic approach that includes all levels of government and to make it more tangible for the citizens.

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