An existing intergovernmental project launched in 2006 has seen 64 sites in 17 member states receive the European Heritage Label already.
These include the Gdańsk shipyards in Poland, birthplace of the Solidarność trade union which helped trigger the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, and the house of Robert Schuman, the French statesman considered as one of the founding fathers of the EU.
The European Commission hopes that making the heritage label an official initiative of the European Union will give it "greater credibility, visibility and prestige".
"I believe that the European Heritage Label will help to increase public awareness of our common yet diverse cultural heritage as well as to stimulate cultural tourism and intercultural dialogue," Commissioner Vassiliou told journalists in Strasbourg yesterday.
Member states will be asked to nominate up to two sites per year to receive the revamped label. A panel of independent experts will then assess the nominations before designating on an annual basis a maximum of one site per country.
"The label will contribute to strengthening European citizens' sense of belonging to the EU and promote mutual understanding in Europe," said Vassiliou.
It would also create new opportunities for Europeans to learn about the history and building of the EU, and "the democratic values and human rights that underpin European integration," the Cypriot said.
The commissioner said the EU executive would apply strict selection and monitoring procedures to ensure that "only the most relevant sites" received the label.
Indeed, the Commission said its European Heritage Label would differ from similar initiatives like the UNESCO World Heritage scheme because the title would only be bestowed upon sites that have played "a key role in the history of the European Union".
Rather than architectural quality or beauty, sites will be chosen according to their "European symbolic value" and particularly their educational significance for young people, the EU executive explained.
"The cost of setting up this initiative, which averages €920,000 per year, is to our mind small compared with the potential educational and tourist benefits," said Commissioner Vassiliou.
EU funding will be required to support the cost of maintaining the expert panel, promote the visibility of the initiative at European level, encourage networking between sites and employ staff at the Commission to run the scheme, she explained.
The new plans will be submitted for adoption to the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, which represents EU member states, and if approved could come into effect in 2011 or 2012.