EU ministers reached last week (18 May) a political agreement to launch a "European Heritage Label", which will highlight sites that celebrate the history and development of the EU. The European Parliament has been involved in the drafting of the agreement and is expected to adopt the Council's text in its second reading without amendments.
The first sites to receive the new label will be announced in 2013.
But throughout the discussions on the agreement, the UK maintained huge reservations and said it would abstain from voting on the final agreement, which it did.
British diplomatic source told EurActiv that the UK won't be nominating any sites to obtain the label. The UK already had a number of UNESCO world heritage sites protected at domestic level and "it is not necessary to have any European ones," the source said.
The World Heritage list at UNESCO, the UN's educational, scientific and cultural organisation, comprises 911 properties, forming part of global cultural heritage which the UN's World Heritage Committee considers of outstanding universal value.
Participation in the new EU scheme is indeed voluntary, the European Commission noted.
Some British members of the European Parliament have heavily criticised the Heritage Label as "a vain attempt to force a common European identity" and described it as a desperate attempt by the EU to "create a synthetic European identity".
The UK would also have preferred to use existing funds for the scheme rather than committing new funds being to it.
The financial resources allocated to implement the new labels during the period 1 January 2012 to 31 December 2013 are set at 650,000 euros.
Focus on promoting access, educational activities
According to the Council, which represents member states, the focus of the new EU heritage label scheme will not be on the architectural qualities or beauty of the sites, but on the promotion and access to different sites of "strong symbolic value in terms of European history and heritage".
This "implies clear explanations on their European significance and organisation of educational activities," the Council added.
The scheme will not cover conservation of the sites, which should be guaranteed by existing protection regimes. But awarding the label to different sites is meant to "contribute to the economic and sustainable development of regions, in particular through cultural tourism".
In 2013-14, member states will be able to nominate four sites to receive the award. Independent experts will assess the nominations and select which should be designated with the label. From 2015, selection will take place every two years. Member states will be able to nominate up to two sites each time and the experts will select a maximum of one site in each country.
Existing sites need to re-apply
The 68 sites from 18 member states which have received the label under the existing intergovernmental scheme will not be automatically integrated into the new scheme, but will be able to apply for the new EU label – a demand formulated by the Parliament in its first reading of the dossier.
Examples of current heritage sites include Gdańsk shipyard in Poland, the Acropolis in Athens and the house of Robert Schuman in France.