Provenance and heritage in the EU: why we should preserve European products of origin

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

A worker make a glass jewel at the booth Murano Glass Technology, during the EPHJ - EPMT - SMT exhibition, at Palexpo, in Geneva, Switzerland, 12 June 2018. [EPA-EFE/SALVATORE DI NOLFI]

The EU should ensure that our continent’s craft heritage is protected and easily identifiable internationally, writes Sebastiano Costalonga.

Sebastiano Costalonga is a Municipal councillor for Commerce, Manufacturing and Industrial Activities of the City of Venice.

Every time I happen to talk about the fascinating story of Murano glass and Burano lace, I feel a profound and intense sense of pride.

The secrets of Murano were jealously guarded on the island by Venetian glassmakers for centuries. Burano lacemaking is closely linked to fishing, as it originates in the manufacturing and repair of fishing nets, and Murano glass chandeliers no longer need introducing.

Murano glass and Burano lace are deeply rooted in the tradition of my city. Murano and Burano artisans are not only emblems of centuries-old craft traditions defining the identity of the Serenissima: they are both European cultural legacies that made our continent a cradle of outstanding craft production admired and envied around the world.

Europe’s craftsmanship is a vast and diverse inheritance that lies in our cities, provinces, and regions. Our traditional local productions are part of a larger treasure that I like referring to as the EU’s family jewels.

As you know, the value of family jewels is not determined by their market value; they are handed down from one generation to the next because they belong to the same family, and in doing so, they end up becoming priceless objects, which no sensible descendant would ever sell or throw away.

The European Union is our family, and we have inherited some wonderful showpieces. For example, we have Fermo shoes, Como silk, Bohemian crystal, Limoges porcelain, Toledo steel, Donegal tweed, Solingen cutlery, and the list goes on and on. These products and the local artisans who craft them are an essential part of European history and identity.

We need to recognise the role they played and still play in raising our industrial profile across the world and in making Europe a synonym of quality. The European Union should not ignore or take for granted these artisanal traditions. They are exceptional local manufacturing histories that, all together, tell the magnificent story of a continent that has an unrivalled industrial legacy that is unique, rich, and extraordinary.

Many of these local traditional crafts are at risk of disappearing, sacrificed to the logic of free competition with countries and markets that do not abide by the same rules.

The EU should ensure that our craft heritage is protected and easily identifiable internationally. The manufacturers of our cities and regions made the Europe we know and belong to, and it is only fair to acknowledge and finally recognise their role in shaping our cultural and industrial identity.

The city of Venice, together with AFIGIA, the French Association of Industrial and Artisanal Geographical Indications, and many European regions and municipalities, and thanks to the support of Acuitas Communications, is currently engaging with the European Commission to make a case for adequate legal protection for Europe’s handicraft and industrial products.

We are the first alliance of manufacturers of European products of origins, and although we have different languages, we speak with one single voice across the EU.

Our coalition is called Craft Europe – Local provenance, European Legacy, and we would like to invite other European cities and regions to get in touch and join our initiative (info@crafteurope.eu).

Our strong and unalterable conviction is that the creation of a single protection system for non-agricultural products based on a sui generis IP right at the EU level is a measure that would ensure the preservation of traditional local industries without affecting the EU internal market.

This mechanism would produce an optimal alignment with the Geneva Act of the Lisbon Agreement and would also produce a wide range of self-reinforcing benefits across our continent.

First of all, a mechanism protecting non-agricultural geographical indicators would preserve the work of traditional local manufacturers and defend consumers against counterfeiting and boost Europe’s industrial relaunch post-COVID.

The growth generated would be homogeneous and create more economical and geographical balance. The preservation and recognition of the products of origin would also back rural economies, where these goods are produced and would make our countryside more attractive to young people who are currently forced to leave their hometowns to find a job in bigger cities.

Europeans should not be forced out of their own region by economic hardship and should have the right to perpetuate centuries-old traditions that defined the identity of their community.

A PGI system would help to revitalise small and medium-sized cities; repopulating areas at risk of desertification; decreasing the population density of our metropolises to make them more affordable and greener; and even significantly reduce the carbon footprint of European consumers, to facilitate the EU’s efforts to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

Together, we responded to the consultation launched by the European Commission on this topic. We are now working on a Manifesto, due to be published soon, with our analysis and proposals. Our voice is loud and clear, but it must become stronger.

The city of Venice and its partners would like to invite all regions, provinces, citizens, and industrial and handicraft associations to join us in this initiative and show to the EU institutions that we are the beating heart of Europe’s industry, everywhere from Portugal to Bulgaria, from Italy to Sweden. These traditions and skills inherited from our ancestors will be the legacy that we will pass on to future generations of EU citizens.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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