Statement at the EU FORUM 2001 on CULTURAL COOPERATION IN EUROPE
Dr. Gerhard Ermischer
Pathways to Cultural Landscapes
Pathways to Cultural Landscapes is a project about the study and sustainable management of cultural landscapes. As the theme is extremely broad, we narrowed it to cultural landscapes, which have a recent history of poverty and neglect but nevertheless have a long and rich history, which often has become virtually invisible because of the image of poverty equals lack of historic interest. Thus 12 sample landscapes in 10 European countries were selected to partake in this project. The organisations dealing with these landscapes range from charities, non profit organisations, local and regional museums, research institutes, state heritage management, universities to an academy of science. The project therefore is not only fairly representative for the cultural landscapes in Europe but also the different organisations and institutions dealing with it.
The project started as a follow up of the small network Pathways to Cultural Landscapes, which formed in 1997 and was funded by the EU RAPHAEL programme in 1998-1999. Because of the success of this very specialised project, dealing with the Bronze Age landscape in Northern Europe, we decided to formulate several follow up projects. One for example was the creation of a Northern Bronze Age Route, directly springing off the old project, and another was the project Pathways to Cultural Landscapes, that deals with the cultural landscape in a wider perspective. The follow up projects included a much greater number of partners than the original network, and the groups overlap. We still stay in touch which each other and assure a permanent exchange of information between the networks. Many activities between network partners have been taking place, on short term as well as long term, outside the actual projects.
Pathways to Cultural Landscapes I would call a big informal network. It is big because it has a great number of partners, has in fact started in 1997 and the actual project will last until the end of 2003, with a great desire of all participants to continue networking thereafter; informal because it has no permanent administrative structure, albeit there exists a project related coordination office with one person employed full time. The structure is concentric: the inner circle consists of the partners directly partaking in the actual project. Each of these partners is working with a number of organisations and people on the local and national level to realise its own part in the project. There are number of organisations which had been interested in joining the project at the beginning, but were not able to do so for various reasons. Many of those still are in contact with the network. Many more organisations have learned about the project on conferences, direct cooperation with single partners or through the Internet and scientific publications. They have contacted us and asked how they could cooperate with us and are forming an ever-widening circle of interest. We hope, that after the actual project has been finished, they will be drawn into the growing network for cultural landscapes - which then of course will have to change its structure.
The experience with networking under the described conditions has been very positive. Not only proofed the partnerships established in the first project very close and reliable, also the bigger network is working very smoothly and in a spirit of true cooperation and partnership. But of course, this also depends very much on the people involved, and one has to be lucky to find a big group of people who can work together without greater problems. Especially the exchange of experience between partners from the different greater regions of Europe has proofed of enormous value. In the field of cultural sciences we can distinguish several major zones of very different tradition: the Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian, Central European or Mediterranean for example. The intensive contact with colleagues from the other regions has had a tremendous influence on the national projects. In the case of my own regional project, the Archaeological Spessart-Project, we have totally remodelled our approach, goals and methods at least twice, according to new and different perspectives achieved through our partners.
The partnership is especially valuable for the smaller partners. Charities and non-profit associations often have a difficult stand in their home region, they are not likely accepted by universities or research institutes as equal partners. Participating in a European, EU-funded network helps to raise their credit and respectability. Specially in the cultural landscapes we deal with, landscapes with an image of poverty and poor history, the integration into a European network helps to raise the interest of the local people in their own environ and to understand and appreciate its value and importance as well as its vulnerability and need for management and protection. It also helps to gain funds and win sponsors. To my own experience I can say, that for each Euro of EU funding we received we could acquire up to seven Euros from extra sponsors, especially in the economy (banks, industrial plants, private enterprises, regional as well as multinational). The network also gives access for the partners, again specially the smaller organisations, to resources of international scientific institutes they normally could never approach.
Networking on a European level must be seen as a European challenge - speaking about the often-quoted principal of subsidiarity. It is very difficult for many organisations to provide the necessary infrastructure for a European network. Local or regional, even national, administrations find it difficult to finance labour as well as material necessary to coordinate and manage such a network. The EU funding here allows doing what normally could not be done. Networks rely on the personal contact, therefore meetings, seminars or conferences simply are vital, and again travel costs are difficult to find for employees or members of the organisation, especially for charities or non-profit organisations, but as well for many a city administration for example.
At the end I would like to add some aspects from the discussion. Good and successful networks should get a chance to survive a single project. If one wants them to be sustainable, then a continued funding should be possible. Managing a network is a difficult task, you have to deal with so many different partners in different states, which still have very different administrative systems. A bit less of regulation on the side of the EU, longer deadlines and a bit more flexibility could make the task much easier for the main organiser. And a last personal note: when networks shall be European, they should be seen as European, and not be put back into national boxes, e.g. calling a project German, just because the contractor is German. Networks have been described as democratic, open and non-hierarchical - this is their great strength and a chance to make Europe more real for many people.