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Routes4U - Meeting of the Adriatic and Ionian Macro-Region on fostering regional development through the Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe

Venice 6 June 2018
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As delivered

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here in what is a beautiful and inspiring setting.

I would like to begin by commending you on today’s initiative.

By bringing together this group of talented experts and professionals from countries across the Adriatic and Ionian Macro-Region, you are setting out in precisely the spirit of the Cultural Routes programme – and indeed the culture of the Council of Europe.

Co-operation, intercultural dialogue and the mutual benefits that flow from these.

From its birth in 1949, our Organisation has always upheld the value of culture and heritage.

We understand that these are crucial to our regional, national and European identities.

And that they are the soul of our democracies, in which human rights and rule of law can flourish.

The European Cultural Convention, adopted just five years after the founding of the Council of Europe, was an early indication of our approach.

Various strategies, initiatives and conventions have followed since.

These include of course the Santiago de Compostela Declaration of 1987 – the catalyst for the 33 certified Cultural Routes that exist today, winding through all 47 of our member states and beyond, and upheld and promoted by more than 1,000 members of our networks.

And, importantly, we have our Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society.

Its text stresses that cultural heritage is a factor in sustainable economic development.

By this we understand that it is vital to support culture per se: to spur creativity, reinforce identity and enrich our lives in a democratic context.

This is at the core of our mission.

stimulating cultural innovation can, in turn, generate the activity, enterprise and employment that make any given area more economically sustainable too: a virtuous cycle in which sustainable culture creates sustainable communities and sustainable communities create sustainable culture.

Clearly, regional development cannot be sustainable if it does not take into consideration the specific culture of that area.

Development must complement identity; not bump up against it.

So you are here today to share ideas and experiences and to learn lessons from one another:

To ensure that Cultural Routes are the spark that lights a lasting flame in this region.

And the Council of Europe is here to contribute our experience, lend our support and do what we can to help you deliver on your inherent promise.

What promise you have.

The treasures of this region are unsurpassed.

The beauty of the coastline, the diversity of the architecture, the depth of the art, history and religious sites.

Your offer to tourists is truly special.

An understanding of that fact underpins the Routes4U joint programme, which I signed on behalf of the Council of Europe last year, along with our most important institutional partner: the European Union.

Indeed, the EU Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region also recognises this by making sustainable tourism one of its four thematic pillars.

So we are pleased that EUSAIR is making full use of the Cultural Routes programme too.

Certainly, we must all work together on the task in hand.

But how does it function in practice?

It begins with being clear about the uniqueness of our offer.

Those who follow our Cultural Routes can expect to discover not only monuments, historical artefacts and archaeological sites, but landscapes, local produce and practices as well as traditions, beliefs and narratives.

And because the Programme reaches out to local SMEs and supports their contribution to the local economy, we are able to generate tourism that both enhances the cultural well-being of visitors and boosts the economic dividend for residents.

Given that 90% of the territories crossed by the Routes are in rural, off-the-beaten-track areas, the sensitive development of local industries is of particular importance – whether in relation to transport or products, or food and accommodation.

And our commitment is to respectful, sustainable development that maintains local heritage and enhances the environment too.

In this way, economic inclusion for local people is not just a by-product of the Programme, but a practical and beneficial aim in itself.

Within the EUSAIR area, there are a total of 21 existing Cultural Routes.

And from these there are already inspiring examples of projects that deliver sustainable development.

Take, for example, the development of lesser known destinations.

The European Route of Cistercian Abbeys, which crosses Italy, achieves this with aplomb.

Of the 180 abbeys and related sites, many are located in less well-known areas.

But by hosting museum nights, open doors days and year-round activities, they have literally put themselves on the map, and attracted thousands of people to small towns in remote destinations.

The Cluniac Sites in Europe have added to this an online dimension.

“Clunypedia” is a website that maps European monasteries and related sites.

Free and accessible to all, each monastery has its own page that provides images and information.

This central resource is therefore promoting local heritage for the 177 members of the Cultural Route and its 109 additional historical sites.

When it comes to tourism management, the Transromanica route that includes Italy and Serbia has much to teach us.

It provides a master class in promoting local produce under an effective management plan.

And the Via Francigena has been equally effective with its “Stop and Taste” project that invites pilgrims to experience the route through the taste of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and other food and drink along the way.

But the Via Francigena provides an important example in at least one other respect.

With support from EUSAIR it has also embedded itself in a sustainable financial network.

200 municipalities from across France, Italy, Switzerland and the United Kingdom contribute to this Cultural Route through the payment of membership fees.

These annual contributions add up to a significant and stable funding source, and may well be a model for others to follow.

So, the promotion of heritage destinations by old and new means alike.

The development of an efficient and effective network of local businesses that use regional products and services to harness the interest and spending power of tourists, visitors and pilgrims.

And the use of existing mechanisms and interested parties to put in place the funding that ensures long-term viability.

This is what we mean when we speak about fostering regional development through the Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe.

It is happening now.

And by working together we have the potential to do so much more.

But I want to end by reflecting on one very special Cultural Route that crosses five countries in the Adriatic and Ionian Macro-region, namely Albania, Croatia, Greece, Italy and Slovenia.

The Olive Tree Route launched its Culinary Arts Charter last year.

This brings together groups of twenty local people and twenty refugees in the Greek region of Kalamata.

These include cooks, nutritionists and other culinary experts.

Together, these people participate in interactive workshops where they exchange knowledge, skills and recipes.

They learn about one another’s traditions and methods when it comes to growing, preparing and enjoying food.

And during month-long collaborations, they provide:

  • cooking demonstrations for local restaurateurs, hotel staff and others
  • a seminar on the theme of cultural and gastronomic tourism
  • and knowledge and information days in which the refugees are able to share their skills with local people and entrepreneurs.

This is the power of Cultural Routes at its best.

A creative bridge that facilitates cultural exchange – yes – but one which also connects our history to the modern day, and indeed our common future too.

On the one hand it enables grassroots participation and strengthens democratic participation – and, on the other, it is packed with the entrepreneurial potential from which communities can benefit.

Ladies and gentlemen, since 2010 Council of Europe member states have benefitted from our Enlarged Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes.

Earlier this year we welcomed its thirty second member.

And our commitment to these cultural veins is resolute.

But I think that we all know that regional initiatives are at their most effective when local expertise drives their development from bottom up.

The Council of Europe challenge is to facilitate and support your efforts.

Along with our partners, it is a challenge that we accept.

So I not only wish you a fruitful exchange here today but assure you that we are listening and ready to engage with the initiatives that flow from it.

Thank you all for being here.