Italy has always been involved in a huge amount of European joint cultural programmes with the Council of Europe and the European Union.
As for the European Union, our country has always been at the forefront in the commitment for enhancing its action in the cultural field.
In the late 1990s, it was up to Italy to explore new ways of financing programmes in support of culture and heritage also aimed at pursuing the economic development and social inclusion objectives characterising the EU Structural Funds. In fact, the creation of a special Priority Axis Culture within the “European Community Support Framework 2000–2006″ for the Objective 1 Regions has been a fruitful idea put forward by the then Italian Minister of Heritage, Walter Veltroni, and subsequently adopted by the European Commission (some observations about the pros and cons of cultural programmes carried out with the support of the European Structural Funds in Italy under the 2007-2013 Cohesion Plan may be found in chapter 1.2.6). The Report on Cultural Cooperation in the European Union (the so-called Ruffolo Report) adopted by the European Parliament in 2001 has also been an Italian initiative aimed at strengthening a European common policy in support of its diverse cultures.
Italy has also been actively engaged in the preparatory work for the merging of the two existing EU programmes directly supporting culture planned for 2014 (Culture 2007-2013 and MEDIA) into the new programme Creative Europe, aimed at boosting European competitiveness through the support of its cultural and creative sectors. The Italian MP Silvia Costa – the new President of the Cultural Committee of the European Parliament – has actually been Rapporteur for the Creative Europe Programme 2014-2020, finally adopted in November 2013.
As far as the very successful ECOC/European Capitals Of Culture programme is concerned, the exceptionally crowded competition for the Italian title/2019 should be mentioned, for which as many as 21 cities applied with more or less well articulated plans. Finally, the southern city of Matera was the well deserving winner. As a positive follow up of the competition, though – and in view of stimulating civic cultural planning capabilities –MiBACT decided to launch a six years competition 2016-2021 for Italian Capital of Culture. Mantova for 2016 and Pistoia for 2017 have already been rewarded with the nomination, as a result of their culturally innovative urban plans.
Among the many cultural programmes carried out by the Council of Europe with active Italian participation – like the Audiovisual Observatory, the Eurimages fund for film production and distribution, the HEREIN project in the field of heritage protection, etc… – the Cultural Routes, launched in 1987 and recently renewed with additional support by the European Commission and the European Parliament, should be singled out. The programme combines the CoE’s pursuit of fostering European identity by enhancing its diversity, as well as promoting intercultural dialogue, and Italy’s bias to consider the cultural heritage as one of the main assets in order to promote – along with the strengthening of peaceful coexistence – a more sustainable development. While presently focusing on the rehabilitation of the Via Francigena (the medieval pilgrims route connecting England with Rome through Belgium, France and Switzerland), Italy is involved in other routes as well, like the Phoenician Routes.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that in February 2013 the CoE’s Faro Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society (2005) was ratified, albeit belatedly, by Italy. This will hopefully open new perspectives for a much-needed “reflection on the role of citizens in the processes of defining, deciding and managing the cultural environment in which communities function and evolve”.
As for UNESCO, MAE’s Directorate Central for the Promotion of Italian Culture and Language, and MiBACT’s UNESCO World Heritage Bureau, set up in 2004, are jointly responsible for monitoring the UNESCOConventions dealing with cultural heritage – starting from the first one, the 1972 World Heritage Convention – along with their implementation. Furthermore, an ad hoc inter-ministerial committee has been established for monitoring the implementation of the two most recent conventions dealing with cultural matters: the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, and the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (both subscribed by our country in 2007). As far as the latter is concerned, according to art. 9, the first periodic quadrennial report focusing on the implementation of the principles of the Convention in Italy was submitted in 2012 to the UNESCO Secretariat (http://www.unesco.org/culture/cultural-diversity/2005convention/en/periodicreport/list/2012/c/Italy). Furthermore, it is worth mentioning that since spring 2013 Italy, along with France and other European countries, is actively engaged in protecting the “cultural exception” principle – one of the main cornerstones of every country’s right to support its own cultural diversity through regulatory measures and financial aid – potentially threatened by a renewed attack from the US audiovisual industry in the framework of a new Transatlantic Trade and Partnership Agreement / TTPA.
It should also be noted that Italy is the country with the highest number of monuments and sites inscribed on the World Heritage List (50 sitesin2014, when “the Vineyards landscape of Piemonte: Langhe, Roero and Monferrato” was added to the list (https://whc.unesco.org/en/newproperties/date=2014&mode=list). On the other hand, for the time being, only five items (the “Sicilian Puppets”, the “Sardinian pastoral songs”, the “Traditional violin craftsmanship in Cremona”, the “Celebration of big shoulder-borne religious processional structures” and the “Mediterranean Diet” (the latter in partnership with Spain, Greece and Morocco) are inscribed on the List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage: but many more candidates are waiting for their turn.
Furthermore, two new Italian-UNESCO agreements have been signed by Irina Bokova and Minister Franceschini in February 2016. The first, very timely one, is the creation by MiBACT- according to a UNESCO 2015 General Assembly decision – of Unite for Heritage: an Italian task force of “blue helmets for culture” – composed of 30 heritage experts and 30 specialised “carabinieri” (security armed forces) – rescue of pre and after-war world heritage archaeological sites and artefacts from war damage (as well as damage from natural disasters).
The second is the creation in Turin – a city where the promotion of cultural development has been one of the main remedies to de-industrialisation phenomena – of a UNESCO training and research centre for cultural economics.