Dear Mayor Nardella,
Dear Ms Costa,
Dear Mayors, distinguished guests,
It is a great pleasure for me to co-host this event with Mayor Nardella. It is the first time that representatives of so many cities that have been, are currently, or will soon become European Capitals of Culture have come together in this format - and I am proud to be starting a new tradition here.
European cities have always been at the very heart of our cultural story. From east to west, north to south, your cities have been instrumental in creating today's Europe. And nowhere is that more the case than in Florence. After all, some of the greatest renaissance painters called this beautiful city their school, home and inspiration. To this very day Florence is known across the world as a culturally rich and vibrant city to live in, study and visit.
And so what better place to host this conference which will focus on how culture and cultural heritage can drive the socio-economic and international development of cities.
You all have something important in common: being a European Capital of Culture is a challenge that requires tremendous work and commitment. Keeping up the momentum after the year has passed is another. I am confident that those who will soon hold the title can learn a lot from those who have already done so. I hope you seize this opportunity to network with your peers, exchange success stories and find ways to cooperate in the future.
Since 1985, the European Capitals of Culture initiative has enabled people from all over our continent and beyond to discover hidden gems and take part in a wide range of activities. Every Capital of Culture is different, and has a character of its own. However there is more that unites us than differentiates us in our quest to put culture at the centre of the political agenda - and the daily lives of citizens.
Indeed, this is a message we are working hard to communicate with the European Year of Cultural Heritage we are celebrating in 2018. The Year is an invitation to everyone to rediscover and reconnect with cultural heritage. And on my travels throughout the Year, I found it inspiring to see villages, small towns and cities fully involved. Indeed, over 3.6 million people have already joined in celebrating our common cultural heritage. I would like to thank all of those here today who have organised a European Year of Cultural Heritage related event or initiative in your city. Thank you for bringing people closer to each other and helping us build bridges between the past and the future.
Indeed, there is another similarity between the European Year of Cultural Heritage and the European Capitals of Culture - the global dimension. Both are using culture to reinforce Europe's engagement with the world and improve mutual understanding between people. In August of this year, the Culture City and Cultural Capital Forum was held in China. This Forum sought to enhance cooperation between cities and facilitate the exchange of experience between European Capitals of Culture and East Asian Cities of Culture.
Also in the context of the European Year of Cultural heritage, events in cities around the world put the spotlight on Europe. For example, EU delegations across the world have been organising exhibitions and events celebrating and raising awareness of Europe's rich cultural heritage.
Of course, cities benefit from the unique power of culture in the long term. That is why the European Commission supports them in making the most of culture as a driver of economic growth and social development. Our in-house science service, the Joint Research Centre, has developed the Cultural and Creative Cities Monitor. This tool, which we launched last year, provides comparable data on how 168 cities across the continent use culture to foster growth and cohesion. The Monitor therefore helps these, as well as other cities, identify and build on their strengths and to learn from each other. I am looking forward to launching a mobile application of the Cultural and Creative Cities Monitor later this year.
This will be part of the legacy of the European Year of Cultural Heritage - alongside a number of other initiatives.
This May, I presented a new European Agenda of Culture. Following EU Leaders' call for more ambition in this area, it outlines how we can work together at the European, national and regional levels to make the most of culture in boosting economic growth, fostering social cohesion and strengthening our relations with our partners across the world. It will be a roadmap for our cooperation for years to come. As one concrete follow-up, I intend to present a Cultural Heritage Action Plan towards the end of this year. This will help us ensure that cultural heritage remains at the heart of the EU's political priorities well beyond 2018.
Big ambitions need funding to match. That is why the European Commission has proposed to boost support to culture in the EU's next long-term budget. We want to raise the budget of Creative Europe - our programme for the cultural and creative sectors - to EUR 1.85 billion for 2021-2027.
I call upon you - those who believe in the power of culture in transforming Europe for the better - to support us in these negotiations. Culture has always been at the heart of the European project. Today, as divisions are opening up between and within Member States and even communities, we need to rely more than ever on its power to bring people together. To help us understand each other - and ourselves.
Thank you, and I wish you all an excellent conference.