EU Commissioner for Science and Research Janez Potočnik gave the keynote speech at the "Cultural heritage research meets practice" conference held in his home town of Ljubljana (Slovenia) on 10–14 November 2008. He underscored the importance of cultural heritage for the European economy as well as its contribution to the Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs, the knowledge-based economy and the European Research Area
While cultural heritage maintains great cultural and social importance, the economic implications cannot be ignored. Annual revenue of €340 billion and 8 million jobs are linked, both directly and indirectly, to European cultural heritage. Indeed the sector employs more people than the automobile industry in Europe.
Moreover, the market for conservation and cultural heritage is estimated to be close to €5 billion per year. This, on top of the €340-billion tourism industry, shows the significance of cultural heritage and the need to preserve it for Europe.
Commissioner Potočnik then explained the threats to Europe’s cultural heritage. Everything from time, climate change, increased urbanisation and negligence are working to degrade many parts of Europe’s cultural heritage. The cost of reversing or halting the damage is astronomical, and would equate to around €25 billion, which is approximately half the FP7 budget.
Given the importance of cultural heritage to both citizens and to Europe’s economy, the European Commission has taken a more prevalent role in the field over time. Today, the Commission has successfully linked cultural heritage to several key EU initiatives, in particular the Lisbon Strategy and the European Research Area.
Commissioner Potočnik said, “the building of a common European Research Area also has important benefits for the field of cultural heritage research. It creates conditions for more and better coordination and less duplication of research efforts, and better use of the available resources in obtaining the desired results.” Bringing these two initiatives together strengthens both and will help ensure that Europe’s cultural heritage is protected.
"An other example of coordination and harmonisation of approaches at the level of the European Research Area is public-private partnership in the context of the European technological platforms" said the Commissioner. The technological platform which covers the construction sector has cultural heritage as a particular target area.
In regards to the Lisbon Strategy, cultural heritage provides a significant number of jobs within the EU, whether in research or tourism. The cultural heritage sector is only growing, thus reinforcing Europe’s knowledge-based economy. As such, it is important that cultural heritage continues to receive support and funding and that technologies developed through FP projects are put into use.
Cultural heritage has been given a central role in European research, as evidenced by the increased funding and the more than 120 projects supported by the EU over the last 20 years. Commissioner Potočnik highlighted several EU-funded cultural heritage projects that have made great progress in preservation.
He also praised the conference as an excellent way to move cultural heritage forward. Events such as this allow researchers and end-users to meet and share ideas and experiences, thus helping to ensure future research projects address the needs of end-users.
The speech concluded with Commissioner Potočnik telling attendees that they “can count on [the EU]” to support cultural heritage through future FPs. It is the task of the EU and citizens in general to respect and protect Europe’s cultural heritage. Europe needs to protect its past to help ensure its future.