OREANDA-NEWS. From archaeological sites to architecture, from medieval castles to folklore traditions and arts, Europe's cultural heritage is at the very heart of the collective memory and identity of European citizens. The EU's rich national, regional and local diversity is a unique catalyst for exchanges between people of all ages, social backgrounds and cultures. At a local level, Europe's cultural heritage fosters social cohesion and integration through the regeneration of neglected areas, the creation of locally rooted jobs and the promotion of a shared sense of community. This is also true at European level, when visitors from Europe and beyond visit and learn more about the Abbey of Cluny in France, the Archive of the Crown of Arag?n in Spain or the historic Gda?sk Shipyard in Poland, to name a few examples.

This is why, especially at a time when world cultural treasures are under threat and are being deliberately destroyed in conflict zones, the Commission considers that cultural heritage deserves a European Year in 2018. European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Tibor Navracsics, said: "Our cultural heritage is more than the memory of our past; it is the key to our future. A European Year of Cultural Heritage will be an opportunity to raise awareness of the social and economic importance of cultural heritage and to promote European excellence in the sector. I call on the European Parliament and Council to support our proposal and invite all stakeholders to help make this year a success."

In addition, cultural heritage plays a strong economic role. Over 300,000 people are directly employed in the European cultural heritage sector and 7.8 million European jobs are indirectly linked to cultural heritage, for example in tourism and building works, ancillary services such as transport, interpretation services, maintenance and security. In 2011 alone, cultural heritage generated €8.1 billion in France from museums, the operation of historical sites, buildings and visitor attractions, as well as from libraries and archives.

The 2018 Year of Cultural Heritage will be an occasion to highlight the importance of European culture, and what the EU can do regarding conservation, digitisation, infrastructure, research and the development of skills, to name just a few areas supported by EU funding programmes such as Creative Europe. Events will be organised across Europe, as well as information, education and awareness-raising campaigns. It will provide an opportunity to seek answers to the challenges of decreasing public budgets in culture, declining participation in traditional cultural activities, environmental pressures on heritage sites, evolving value chains and digital transformation. In line with the recent Joint Communication "Towards an EU strategy for international cultural relations", it will promote the preservation of cultural heritage as a key element of the EU’s external policies, searching for responses to the criminal destruction of cultural heritage in conflict zones and the illegal trafficking of cultural artefacts.