Team Europe’s future heritage? Protecting shared memories in conflict

By Ana Laura Martins and Damien Helly

On 12-13 November 2020, culture Solutions facilitated the EEAS (European External Action Service) conference on The role of the European Union on the Protection and Enhancement of Cultural Heritage in conflict and crisis. Cultural heritage –both tangible and intangible– materializes symbolic and social references. While the EU is about to adopt a dedicated “concept” for cultural heritage in crises in Spring 2021, this blog summarises the main take-aways of the conference and recommends the launch of specific European communities of practice in this field. 



Key messages from the November conference


Most of the recorded 8 panels emphasised the central role of communities (local groups & networks of expertise) and cultural institutions as well as their empowerment locally to ensure cultural heritage’s sustainability. Communities should be provided with tools and mechanisms (including jobs and livelihood opportunities) to promote resilient and inclusive environments. 


Working with communities benefits from early evidence-based research (vide, for instance, the ecdpm/cS report on Iraq for EEAS), in order to enhance understanding of the cultural environments and crisis contexts involved. The EEAS has already produced policy documents on the importance of conflict analysis. The main trap to avoid is biased external views in crisis-management that might worsen tensions. 


Effective Cultural Heritage Protection in crises relies on the combination of communities’ empowerment (local population, cultural communities, experts teams and networks), public policy support and conflict sensitivity.


During the conference, the need for stronger coordination between organisations, actors and projects, all motivated by a common purpose (vide, in this context, EUNIC) was pointed out. A good example would be the Alliance For Cultural Heritage First Aid, Peace and Resilience spearheaded by ICCROM and ALIPH, focused on building local capacity in the MENAP region. Also worth-mentioning is the EU-funded Netcher platform, in which partners and experts cooperate to tackle the illicit trafficking of cultural goods. 


Crisis response interventions for cultural heritage yield better results when they are multidisciplinary and combine legal justifications and skills in security (police and customs authorities, sites’ physical protection mechanisms), policy-making, academia (architecture, archaeology, digital data collection, etc.), humanitarian, educational and cultural programmes (NGOs, EU, UN, States’ programmes), and even tourism. Cultural heritage protection’s horizontality justifies its inclusion in CSDP missions (new training modules are to be launched in 2021), for instance, in Iraq.


Additionally, there was recognition of the potential of new technologies’ to safeguard, share and give access to cultural heritage For instance, ICONEM‘s work in 3D digitisation of endangered cultural heritage sites generates data (vide, for instance, the digital reconstruction of the city of Aleppo in 2017) crucial for subsequent intervention as well as communities’ memories and sense of belonging.



Next steps: Team Europe, EU leadership, community of practice


With the November 2020 conference, the EEAS, other EU bodies (DEVCO–now renamed DG INTPA, DG EAC) and Member States gave a clear signal of their political will to do more in cultural heritage protection. The challenge now is to ensure that i) the upcoming concept will bring real added-value and make a difference in the already crowded field of EU policy papers and ii) the concept will lead to substantive change in EU programming for the 2021-2027 budget cycle. 


The implementation of an EU doctrine on Cultural Heritage Protection will need to be backed up by Member States’ involvement and EU funds that are currently being programmed.


First, the concept: we have good hope it will make it clear that the borders between tangible and intangible heritage are blurry: it is not “either stones or peoples’ lives”. It is “stones for peoples’ lives”. Protecting and enhancing cultural heritage in crises is about defending a better future along a physical and impalpable continuum. In that regard, the transmission of invisible cultural heritage among refugee populations is as important as 3D modelling of destroyed buildings because they nurture each other.


Second, leadership: the EU and the Member States can develop and implement a proactive, comprehensive, joint and coordinated action in this regard, taking a leading role globally. While multilateralism is under stress, cultural heritage protection ought to be perceived as a trust-building vector instead of a sector due to its horizontality and its constructive potential in conflict mediation and resolution. The EU can also show leadership in developing guidelines for non-violent and peaceful external communications on cultural heritage protection in conflict, to fight against fake news and avoid fuelling tensions.


An EU community of practice on cultural heritage protection and peacebuilding will ensure institutional memory and EU engagement in the long run: culture Solutions is ready to contribute.


Third, Team Europe & communities of practice: In this context, the EU concept will have to be linked smartly with Team Europe-initiatives in conflict-prone areas. If sufficient funds are mobilised as part of a Cultural Heritage Protection Action Plan, EU institutions and Member States will be able to combine academic expertise, knowledge of local contexts and security clout into a community of practice, raising awareness and sharing know-how for this common and global purpose. For instance, the German crisis response compact for cultural heritage protection is a national example that could be applied at EU level. 


A European community of practice on cultural heritage protection & peacebuilding, open to international partners, could focus on the following priorities: 

  • Sharing existing knowledge and know-how between various communities of expertise (academics, counter-terrorism, fight against illicit trafficking, digital etc.), as we started with the November conference
  • Developing more research on the topic building on Member States’ experience 
  • Design of cultural heritage protection and prevention interventions
  • Design a Monitoring and Evaluation methodology and adequate indicators to measure EU’s impact on cultural heritage enhancement and protection


The culture Solutions team is available for partnerships to provide spaces for dialogue and exchange on cultural heritage in fragile contexts. We are also keen to help like-minded partners develop a community of practice and implement new EU programmes and interventions on cultural heritage in crises.



List of references: 

European Commission, “European Framework for Action on Cultural Heritage”, SWD(2018) 491 final, Brussels, [5 December 2018].

European Commission News, “EU Member States sign up to cooperate on digitising cultural heritage”, European Commission Website, [9 April 2019].

European Commission News, “Fifth Meeting of the European Commission’s Expert Group on Digital Cultural Heritage and Europeana (DCHE)”, European Commission Website, [13 May 2019].

culture Solutions thematic page on cultural heritage protection:

Conference on “The role of the European Union in the Protection and Enhancement of cultural heritage in conflict and crisis” :

ECDPM & culture Solutions report, “The role of the European Union in the protection and enhancement of cultural heritage in conflict and post-conflict contexts in the Middle East region: The example of Iraq”:

EU funded UNDP national programme for Supporting Culture Tourism Development in the occupied Palestinian territory: “Support to the Development of Cultural Tourism”, Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People Website, [3 February 2021]:­crisis_prevention_and_recovery/support-to-the-development-of-cultural-tourism-.html

ICCROM and ALIPH’s Foundation’ Alliance for Cultural Heritage First Aid, Peace and Resilience, 04 August 2020:  

ICONEM Website [15 November 2020]:

Netcher project, “NETwork and social platform for Cultural Heritage Enhancing and Rebuilding”, Netcher Website, [4 February 2021]:

UNESCO, “Text for the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage”, 2003, Intangible Cultural Heritage UNESCO Website, [3 December 2020]:


The views expressed in this article are personal and are not the official position of culture Solutions as an organisation. 

Photo credits: EEAS