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High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President to the European Commission Federica Mogherini gave a speech at the UN General Assembly (New York) on 21 September 2017 on the necessity to protect cultural heritage in the fight against terrorism.

At this occasion, HR/VP F. Mogherini asserted that “protecting cultural heritage is our duty as human beings, societies and cultures. In that matter, foreign policy can – and should – be at the service of world’s cultural heritage, as culture is a great tool for mutual understanding, communication, peace and reconciliation.” She regretted that the EU did not have a clear strategy on international cultural relations earlier on. Ms. Mogherini is determined for this new strategy, proposed by the European Commission in 2016 and supported by both the European Parliament and the Council of the EU, to not remain an abstract project on a document.

As a matter of fact, she presented some actions that have already been implemented under the scope of three main priorities:

  • 1st priority: Protection. The protection of cultural heritage has become part of the mandate of all EU military and civilian missions (15 in total around the world), and experts in Cultural Property Protection will be appointed to these missions. As of October 2017, the first experts will be operating in Iraq to “support local security forces” to protect cultural heritage and goods.
  • 2nd priority: Preserving Memory. The EU has been providing financial support and technical assistance to restore destroyed sites and damaged cultural heritage. For example, the European Commission recently adopted a €2 million programme to restore cultural sites in Kosovo, to name but one.
  • 3rd priority: Security. The EU has started a fight against illicit trafficking of cultural goods that are sometimes used to finance terrorist activities. In particular, it has prohibited the import of cultural artefacts from Iraq and Syria, before extanding this prohibition to all importations of illicit cultural goods. Protecting cultural heritage has thus become part of the EU’s strategy in the fight against terrorism.

Ms. Mogherini specified that protecting cultural heritage is also beneficial to the economy, tourism, sustainable development, and many other sectors of activities. She then called the UN in joining Europe’s actions to bring culture at the heart of foreign policy, and use a “smart mix of soft and hard power” to ensure security.

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