MEPs give green light to European ‘blue plaque’ Heritage scheme - La Treizième Étoile: A blog on EU politics
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MEPs give green light to European ‘blue plaque’ Heritage scheme

Monday, 20 December 2010
One of the developments from the recent European Parliament plenary session that has received less press coverage across the media is that MEPs have thrown their weight behind an initiative to brand monuments and sites across the bloc with a ‘European Heritage Label’.

Modelled on the United Nations’ World Heritage program, it is hoped the label will foster a common identity and strengthen European citizens' sense of belonging to the European Union as it will be awarded to historical sites across Europe that "symbolise European integration, ideals and history".

It replaces an existing intergovernmental arrangement that has been in place since 2006, but MEPs convening in Strasbourg were keen to ensure that the new label was not merely a transformation of the existing scheme and so adopted an amendment that means each member state must to pre-select up to two sites every two years and each site that currently carries the label must re-apply.

One site per EU country would then be chosen by the European Commission, with the help of a geographically balanced panel of 13 independent experts nominated by Parliament, the Council, the Commission and the Committee of the Regions.

The European Heritage Label had already been awarded to 64 places, although interestingly not to a single site in the UK.

A relic of ancient Greece and a symbol of democracy, the Acropolis in Athens (Greece) was one of the first recipients of the label alongside the shipyards of Gdansk (Poland) where the Solidarity movement that helped bring an end to communism evolved. The French home of Robert Schuman, a founding father of the European Union was also one of the original sites, as too the birthplaces of Italian composers Rossini, Puccini and Verdi.

Costing less than €1 million a year to administer, Androulla Vassiliou, the European commissioner of Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, said the initiative had a price that was "small compared to the potential educational and tourist benefits".

One of the potential sites already being touted as the first in the UK is Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire, the site of the British efforts to break the Nazi codes during the Second World War and thus played a pivotal role in the creation of Europe as we know it today.

But where else in the UK could merit the European Heritage Label? Back in March, when the Commission proposal first appeared before MEPs, the Independent drew up a list of possible places “both serious and less so, which is broadly similar to the sites already accepted for 17 other EU nations”.

Top of the tongue-firmly-in-cheek shortlist is the Channel Tunnel linking Britain to the European continent which “made an enormous contribution to European unity” since “the European continent, previously isolated from the rest of the world, was finally connected to Britain”.

The small town of Sandwich in Kent “to symbolise Britain's principal contribution to European cuisine” was also touted, as too is Grantham, the Lincolnshire hometown of Iron Lady Baroness Margaret Thatcher who signed the Single European Act to create a properly unified European single market for the first time (and also demanded Britain’s money back), and Upholland, the Lancashire hometown of the current and first ever EU High Representative of Foreign Affairs, Baroness Catherine Ashton...

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