"The Notre Dame incident has highlighted how very fragile and vulnerable our cultural heritage is, and ensuring proper mechanisms to safeguard them is important to ensure their longevity." This was stated by Minister for Justice, Culture and Local Government Owen Bonnici during an Informal Meeting of EU Member States Ministers in charge of Cultural Policy, held in Paris today.
Minister Bonnici stressed that the tragic incident that befell the Notre Dame Cathedral on 15 April shocked not only the French people but the world at large. This national treasure, which attracts millions of people daily, is considered one of the most widely recognised symbols of the city of Paris and the French nation.
"Having just celebrated the European Year of Cultural Heritage which aimed to encourage a sense of belonging to a common European space, as Europeans, we also shared very closely the sentiment felt by the French, and it is for this reason that we are here today. To show our solidarity whilst together, we look forward with hope and courage", said the minister.
Minister Bonnici stressed that Malta would support more cooperation in this field, particularly in terms of the necessary repository of expertise readily available in such tragic incidents. "Although thankfully such disasters are not frequent occurrences, when they do happen, they call not only for national experts but for the world at large to ensure the very best attention and care will be given. Therefore, ad-hoc answers might not always be the best solution", said Minister Bonnici.
He said that the exchange of good practices and pooling of expertise in this field is key, as such incidents, as scarce as they may be, can leave devastating results and in some cases, permanent damages and losses.
He also referred to the Cultural Heritage Forum, which is tasked with providing the European Commission with opinions and analysis regarding EU Funding programmes, to monitor the implementation of the European Framework for Action on Cultural heritage, as well as to bring about exchange of experience and good practice related to the management of cultural heritage at different levels of governance.
Minister Bonnici pointed out that an online registry could be established where each country can upload any useful lists of expertise which can be offered in case of an emergency.
The minister lauded the efforts made by the University of Malta in terms of the launch of the European Research Infrastructure for Heritage Science (E-RIHS), which brings together 18 countries as founding members, 10 potential international countries as supporting partners and over 80 institutions. He said that E-RIHS aims at enabling the cross-disciplinary community to advance heritage science and give global access to distributed infrastructures all over Europe in a coordinated way.
"The establishment of E-RIHS in Europe is a joint target pursued by several communities acknowledging the need of an integrated approach. We believe that structures such as these could also be used as a means of sharing best practices and knowledge in the field", said the minister.
In this whole context, he said, it is crucial to mobilise existing financial resources for issues related to the safeguarding of endangered heritage provided by the European Union under its different programmes.
Minister Bonnici also stressed the importance of ensuring that our youths are attracted to their heritage, sayting that, "we need to instil in them a sense of duty to continue to preserve their heritage and a sense of pride of being part of something bigger, something which gives us our identity. This is done by targeting our initiatives to when they are very young".
Minister Bonnici explained that at a national level, Malta has the Heritage Passport, which is offered to all students, enabling them to visit for free any heritage site or museum managed by Malta's national agency, Heritage Malta. Furthermore, each student may opt to be accompanied by two adults who will also enter the site free of charge. This initiative has also been extended to senior citizens.
During the meeting, a declaration was adopted whereby the member states pledged to foster greater collaboration in order to preserve shared European heritage and better protect endangered heritage and provide Europe's young people with greater opportunities.