Local and regional politicians from EU Member States met in Sofia on Friday 19 May to discover the city's efforts in the fields of cultural policy and social inclusion of migrants and minorities. President of the European Committee of the Regions Markku Markkula and Mayor of Sofia Yordanka Fandakova highlighted that the Bulgarian capital is among the first cities that have established an encompassing Cultural Innovations Fund to support and develop creativity and culture in the city through a partnership between public institutions and private sector.
The year 2018 has been declared as the European Year of Cultural Heritage and it coincides with the Bulgarian presidency of the Council of the EU during the first semester. According to President Markkula, this will be an opportunity to promote Europe's cultural heritage as a pivotal component of cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue. "The European Year of Cultural Heritage – which will be launched here in Bulgaria in January 2018 by Commissioner Tibor Navracsics – will be an opportunity to involve citizens from all backgrounds, in particular children and young people, in events and projects emphasising Europe's heritage and values, helping to strengthen a sense of belonging to a European family", he stated.
It is estimated that cultural and creative sectors provide over 80 000 jobs in Bulgaria. Mayor Yordanka Fandakova emphasized that Sofia has been the first city in Bulgaria to create a long-term municipal strategy for culture. "We will continue to implement this strategy and more, we will continue to increase the budget for culture because we have proven that investment in culture means jobs and economic development and that contributes primarily to tackling one of the serious European problems – youth unemployment. It is no coincidence that the unemployment rate in Sofia is low, also by European standards", Ms Fandakova said.
Delivering the keynote speech at the seminar organised by the CoR's commission for Social Policy, Education, Employment, Research and Culture (SEDEC) in partnership with the city of Sofia, SEDEC Chair Yoomi Renström (SE/PES) stressed: "Regions and cities that put in place cultural development strategies, tap into the extraordinary potential of the cultural and creative sectors in terms of socioeconomic development. In this context, culture is a defining element for cities and regions, which do not only provide the biggest share of funding for culture in most parts of Europe, but also act as laboratories for cultural, creative and social experimentation and innovation."
CoR member Malina Edreva (BG/EPP), who chairs the Committee on Education and Culture in the Sofia Municipal Council, highlighted the importance of the EU Urban Agenda where Sofia is an active partner in three of the 12 priority themes, co-coordinating the one on Digital Transition. "The Smart City model, which responds to the challenges of evolving technological and environmental changes, creates facilities for the integration of different communities", Ms Edreva said. "To promote European values and democracy, we need the participation of people and policies that improve the quality of life. Education, culture and social innovation are key to achieving this goal", she added.
Member of European Parliament Eva Maydell (BG/EPP) participated in a discussion on the potential of culture in digital society and the role of technologies for cultural and social inclusion. "Digital technologies are re-shaping not only the way we live and work but also the way we access culture. New EU legislation on copyright has the potential to boost growth in the sector, but in order for it to be successful we need seamless implementation on national and regional level", Ms Maydell stated.
CoR president Markku Markkula was a keynote speaker at the European Heritage Congress 2017 organised by Europa Nostra in Turku, Finland on 11–15 May. During the ceremony, the EU Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Awards were presented to 29 winners from 18 countries taking part in the EU’s Creative Europe programme. In addition, two exemplary projects from Switzerland and Turkey also received a Europa Nostra Award.
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