Brussels, 4 December 2018

- Check against delivery -

Commissioner Thyssen,

members of the European Disability Forum,

ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be here today. 2018 has been very special, for many reasons.

First, we have been celebrating the European Year of Cultural Heritage. And we have been able to reach out to many people across Europe, inviting them to discover and enjoy our rich and diverse cultural heritage: over 6 million people have taken part in 11,500 events across 37 countries.

My main ambition for the European Year of Cultural Heritage has been to encourage more people from all backgrounds to explore our roots. Cultural heritage is not something that belongs in a museum – its place is at the heart of people’s daily lives.

And clearly this means that we need to improve access to cultural heritage for those who are living with disabilities.

There is a second reason why this Year has been special. We have brought together different sectors and Commission departments. 19 Directorate-Generals have joined forces to help make this year a success. You see one concrete example of this joint work here today: a special prize rewarding cities making cultural heritage accessible to people with disabilities. I want to thank Commissioner Marianne Thyssen and her services for this and the excellent cooperation throughout 2018. And I am delighted to hear that the special prize will continue to be awarded in the future – helping us ensure that the European Year has a lasting impact.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Not only are we seeking to boost accessibility, we are also supporting up-and-coming artists who live with disabilities.

Persons with disabilities have helped shape our rich cultural heritage. Think about Ludwig van Beethoven, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec or more recently Michel Petrucciani, to name just a few examples.

Yet, day to day, we can and should do more to open up opportunities for people with disabilities to make the most of their creative potential. And we are using EU resources to create a more equitable cultural space.

Allow me to elaborate.

The Creative Europe programme aims to enable creative individuals to go abroad for a certain period, with a particular focus on people with disabilities.

For example, the POWER project – currently underway –promotes the transnational co-production of a theatre play with actors with disabilities. Moreover, the project is designed to enhance the skills of those who organise artistic activities for people with disabilities, to help them learn from success stories.

Another example relates of the European Capitals of Culture. One of the criteria used to assess cities competing for the title is connected to "outreach". Cities must explain how they will create new opportunities for those with disabilities to participate in cultural activities.

Wroclaw, which was a European Capital of Culture in 2016, provides some excellent examples of this. The 'I'm myself' project for instance supported persons with disabilities in creating works for a photography exhibition. And the 'Excluded Voice' initiative saw professionals work with people with disabilities to stage theatrical and musical performances. 

These EU projects and programmes rely on funding. And we feel that we can harness culture even more effectively to foster inclusion and build communities – by boosting our support to the cultural and creative sector.

That is why the European Commission has proposed to increase the budget of Creative Europe to EUR 1.85 billion in the EU’s next long-term budget. This would also enable us to finance more projects engaging people with disabilities with cultural heritage – something I am sure all in this room support.

Reinforced funding will help us ensure that the European Year of Cultural Heritage has a lasting impact well beyond the end of 2018.  To guide us in continuing our work, I will present a European Framework for Action on Cultural Heritage later this week.

I would like to conclude by thanking you once again for all of your efforts in helping people with disabilities discover, enjoy and contribute to Europe's cultural heritage in cities. All of the initiatives you take help us bring people together, enabling them to learn about each other and themselves, to appreciate what differentiates us – and to cherish what we have in common. This is how, day by day, culture and cultural heritage help us build cohesive societies and a better Europe for tomorrow.

Thank you.