New Europe caught up with Antimo Cesaro, Italy’s undersecretary of cultural activities and tourism, in Florence where the culture ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) industrialised countries were meeting. Cesaro stressed the importance of cultural heritage and how it can serve as a ‘weapon’ to combat Euroscepticism.

New Europe: Why do you think it is important to invest in Europe’s cultural heritage?

Antimo Cesaro: Cultural heritage is for Europe a strategic asset that should be supported through a long-term action plan. We will be able to win the challenge of global competitiveness if we invest in what it is authentic and close to our identity.

Our patents can be copied and commercialised but the diffused beauty of the European cultural patrimony is not reproducible elsewhere without losing the sense of identity and history of the place that produced it.

For this reason, we have not only the obligation to preserve and maintain, but also to bring to fruition these potentialities.

To do this, we need an evolutionary vision of the safeguards that could conserve, thanks to a correct management, having an impact on the employment. Italy is strongly involved in this matter and Europe too is active.

My country is watching with big interest the other projects in France, Spain and the UK where it was possible to put in place concrete actions able to create a dynamic entrepreneurial environment.

This virtuous circle is unfortunately missing sometimes in the southern part of my country.

One clear example in Italy is the royal palace “reggia” of Caserta, which maybe in few years will be able to welcome one million visitors per year, while Versailles receives seven million tourists each year.

To overcome these gaps, we need to invest more in infrastructure like the high-speed train system or the airport network, not forgetting the broadband connection that is an essential connectivity tool for the entire Europe.

What other measures do we need to attract tourists and to be competitive globally?

In addition to what I stressed before, it is also important to invest in urban design and security in order to attract a big number of potential tourists, coming from China, Russia and the emerging markets, who are looking to Europe with big interest. We are at the first place in the collective imagination as a tourist destination, but we are not always able to fulfil these requests.

How can Europe support the concept of cultural heritage linked to tourism? Which measure should the EU take?

It is evident that we are not lacking economic resources, sometimes we need to create bigger synergies in order not to duplicate initiatives and projects. At the EU level, we need to create well organised networks able to promote the peculiarities of each member state and to create economies of scale showing outsiders that we are a single big country.

We should put aside the sterile nationalism of looking at a united Europe where everybody in the different fields is contributing with their excellences.

In this context, Florence, strong of a secular tradition, is a candidate to guide and host the E-Rihs (European Research Infrastructure for Heritage Science), which is an important EU cultural heritage research platform. This project can create not only a solid cultural and research centre, but a “harmonisation” centre with entrepreneurial experiences from Florence, Italy and Europe.

Thanks to this project we will be able to “create” highly skilled professionals on cultural subjects able to compete at EU and world level.

Cultural heritage can be a “weapon” against populism and anti-EU sentiments. What do you think about this?

I’m convinced about it because when we talk about the European roots, it is not the discussion on budget but the reason why we will be able to consider ourselves a big community. This is our enormous and shared ancient cultural tradition.

We should invest in this more than in the past. We have spoken a lot in Europe about economic and financial matters, now we should discuss more about Europe in cultural terms. In this way, we will understand that we have a commune destiny.

The real challenge is not among the EU countries, but Europe versus the world. Today we are in global world and we should bear in mind that everywhere in the world there are important challenges.

Only a united Europe can be competitive now. The single member states are small parts in a global world, while the EU with its evident weight represents something unique from every point of views: economic, industrial and cultural.