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Introduction to the informal Culture Council of 27th June 2005

Date of Speech : 27-06-2005

Place : Abbey of Neumünster, Luxembourg

Speaker : Octavie Modert, Secretary of State for Culture, Higher Education and Research

Policy area : Education, Youth and Culture Education, Youth and Culture

Event : Informal Meeting of Ministers for Culture

Dear colleagues, Ministers and Secretaries of State,

Dear representatives from the Member States of the European Union

Dear guests of the informal Culture Council,

Dear members of the European Forum for Architectural Policies.

On behalf of the Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of Ministers for Culture, it is a great privilege for me to welcome you here at the Cultural Meeting Centre at the Abbey of Neumünster. Mr. François Biltgen, Minister for Culture, Higher Education and Research apologises for only being able to join us before for lunch, as he is otherwise engaged with the State visit by President Horst Köhler.

We are gathered here at the ancient Abbey of Neumünster, a place with a long history, a place for prayer and education – and also a place of incarceration, as this abbey served as the central prison for many years. This, the "Tutesall" – the "sack room" – was the place where prisoners made sacks. It has now been named after the former Minister for Justice and Culture, Mr. Robert Krieps, who, like 3.500 other members of the Luxembourg resistance during the Nazi occupation, passed through it before being deported to a concentration camp.

Instead a place behind bars, we wanted to make it an open space or, as the Centre Director, Mr. Claude Frisoni, puts it – we are exchanging prison cells for the brain's grey cells. The overarching theme of the centre is "Dialogue for culture and the culture of dialogue": receiving artists in residence at the same time as specialist seminars, the centre is a veritable hive of activity – a place where the economic and the cultural world meet.

We often say that during the Presidency of the European Union, there are but two certainties: the date of the beginning and the date of the end of the Presidency. As our Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, said last week at the European Parliament, the Luxembourg Presidency – although it has not succeeded in gaining everybody's agreement on the financial future of the Union – can say that it has made four achievements:

- together, we have reformed the pact for stability and growth, and in doing so putting to an end a long period of uncertainty;

- the Parliament, the Commission and the Council have succeeded in driving forward the Lisbon Strategy: we are changing the method of application of the Lisbon Process;

- new objectives for official development assistance have been developed: the level of aid passes from €46 billion in 2006 to €66 billion in 2010;

- finally, we have improved our relationship with our American partner: two summits – one in February and the other a few days from now – mark significant steps forward.

To conclude, I would like to quote Jean-Claude Juncker: "(...) On Sunday, we held another summit, with Canada. We don't talk enough about Canada as an important ally for the European Union. North America also includes Canada."

This is why I would now like to extend special gratitude to the delegations from Canada and Quebec, and also those from Bulgaria and Romania, who will join us as Member States, we hope in 2007, as well as Croatia. Our thanks also to Norway, representing the EFTA countries.

Although informal Councils do not usually have agendas to follow, we must confess that this one is a special case: at the top of the agenda – and I hereby declare it open – the European Forum for Architectural Policies!

We have invited Forum members to take part in the beginning of our work to signal our attachment to the natural and man-made environment as part of the cultural identity in this country, as it is across Europe.

Through many debates over projects, urban planning and construction, and a growing awareness, over the past ten years, we have witnessed the potential architecture holds to bring about real, fundamental change in our living environment.

Governments have also recognised that the quality of these architectural projects not only gives us remarkable buildings and public spaces, but also leads to deep-seated and lasting social and economic changes.

Research has proved that the quality of school buildings has an influence on the education provided inside them, and on the students' chances of success, just as a well-designed hospital will improve the prospects of a cure for its patients. And on the other side of the coin, it is widely recognised that vandalism and petty crime are less prevalent in well-designed social housing. Such is the architectural potential used to regenerate so many deprived areas across Europe, both socially and economically.

Of the cultural industries in Europe, architecture is the one receiving the most amount of investment (recent examples in Luxembourg include the new Concert Hall and the new Museum of Modern Art). This is culture that every single one of us can experience, and where we have access to every single day – often without even being aware of it. The debate on planning our living environment, as well as the commitment that citizens bring to this, is a factor that brings us all together: it represents a widely-shared cultural dimension.

It is as a reaction to this growing awareness of architecture's potential to improve our living environment that the initiative of the European Forum for Architectural Policies was launched in 1999. As was the adoption of a practical proposal for a draft resolution on architectural quality in urban and rural environments following the first plenary session in July 2000 (in Paris) – approved by Ministers for Culture in November 2000 and formally adopted by the Council of the European Union in February 2001.

Five years after the first plenary session, we think it is important to examine the progress made in the inclusion of architecture in our politics. At the start of the year, I had the pleasure to present the publication of the Luxembourg Programme entitled "For an Architectural Policy", drawn up by an inter-ministerial and multi-professional group gathering together, similarly to this Forum, Ministerial representatives, professional societies, the Order of Architects and Consulting Engineers, and the Foundation of Architecture and Engineering. This initiative arose from monitoring carried out by the Ministry of Culture, the Forum initiatives and by European examples. More specifically, these examples include the Finnish policy programme for architectural quality that I would particularly like to highlight here.

We therefore wanted to support the first assessment carried out with the Member States, leading to this meeting (the report will be available in fifty bound copies). The study, carried out by Mr. Michael O'Doherty shows us that support for architectural quality has not faltered, and that this vast supportive movement has brought about many initiatives, often arising from the need for exchange among European countries.

Before handing over to Commissioner Jan Figl, also in charge of Culture within the Commission, I would like to say that the Luxembourg Presidency is delighted with the excellent collaboration it has received from both the Commission and the Council Secretariat: without them – a Presidency is nothing! Thank you for your help and for your friendship.

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This page was last modified on : 28-06-2005

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