Plovdiv, 26 March 2018

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Ladies and gentlemen,

Good evening. We are tonight in a city that will be one of the two European Capitals of Culture in 2019, together with Matera in Italy. And it is the first city outside Brussels to host this European Heritage Label ceremony.

Plovdiv has an extraordinary past. Located at a crossroad, its heritage clearly shows the influence of different cultures, historical periods, religions and ethnicities that have been existing peacefully together for centuries.

It is indeed the perfect venue for us to celebrate nine heritage sites which have played a significant role in the history, culture and development of today's Europe. Nine sites that communicate powerful messages to the citizens of Europe and can help the younger generation discover and get to know more about heritage. I congratulate all these sites for making it through a demanding selection process.

The sites also communicate the complex and diverse identities Europe and Europeans are made of. To me, every person has a rich and complex identity, with different layers that all together make this person unique. I am from the city of Veszprém, I am Hungarian, my family has roots in Croatia. At the same time, I am a proud European.

At a time when some believe that identity is composed of one sole component, we must strengthen the sense of a European identity which enriches and strengthens the local, regional and national layers or our identities. We all belong to a peaceful community of more than 500 million citizens with rich histories and interwoven cultures. And this message is exactly the one which the sites holding the European Heritage Label are passing.

Each of the 38 heritage sites now on the list tell us who we are as Europeans. They encompass a great variety of heritage types: archaeological sites, cultural landscapes and natural heritage, historical monuments and places of remembrance, urban districts, intangible heritage and cultural objects, books and archives. They are among the places in Europe where the past meets the future. This is the essence of heritage and our motto of the European Year of Cultural Heritage that we are celebrating throughout 2018.

They remind us of our struggle for peace. Of our common European efforts to improve living and working conditions, food security, education and well-being. They encourage us to make peace with our past and with ourselves while they invite us to admire works of art and forms of solidarity and dignity.

I want us to continue to work together to make the European Heritage Label sites – your sites – better known. They should be gateways of information about Europe's history, cultures and integration process. Let us also build a network of all the sites on the list. All together you give us the big picture and help us better understand our common achievement and the long journey we still have to undertake together.

Let me once again congratulate the nine sites receiving the European Heritage Label tonight. You, the winners, deserve our appreciation and support for your work, and for sharing with us your vision of Europe. I encourage you to make the most of this title and to cooperate with each other. I would also like to thank the Member States who take part in the initiative. Their excellent work in pre-selecting the sites paved the way for a smooth decision. And, finally, my thanks go to our panel of independent experts, who are responsible for the final selection and, once again, accomplished their task very efficiently.

So, a big 'thank you' to you all, and congratulations to our nine new European Heritage sites!