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Monuments to Europe - 09/03/2010

Acropolis in Athens ©EU

EU to highlight sites that celebrate and symbolise European integration, ideals and history

The European Union is home to 500 million people. But most don't usually refer to themselves as EU citizens. When asked about their origins, they tend to answer in terms of their nationality.

The lack of a strong European identity is seen as a challenge to integration in Europe, but it is hardly surprising. The continent is a vast smorgasbord of languages and customs where countries often seem more different than alike.

To give Europeans a greater sense of belonging, the commission has decided to sponsor the European heritage label, a registry of historical sites whose significance transcends national borders. Launched by France, Hungary and Spain in 2006, the project was meant to increase awareness and appreciation among Europeans of their common history and shared yet diverse cultural heritage.

Today the participating countries number 18, including Switzerland. And the registry has grown to include dozens of historical edifices like the Acropolis, the house of Robert Schuman - the French statesman who was one of the EU's founding fathers - and the Gdansk shipyards where the Solidarnosc trade union was founded, triggering events that helped end the Cold War.

In taking over the project, the EU hopes to expand its scope and give it more visibility and prestige. To obtain the status, heritage sites must demonstrate their importance in the process of European integration. A plaque bearing the heritage logo will then be mounted at the entrance to the site.

It's not all about culture, however. Like UNESCO's world heritage sites, the label attracts tourists, boosting regional economies.

The registry complements EU initiatives such as the European capital of culture and the Erasmus exchange programme for students. In past decades, these have contributed to European understanding and integration by providing concrete examples of the common culture.

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