European Historic Houses Association Congress and General Assembly Brussels and Eastern Flanders

From the 1st to the 4th of October, the European Historic Houses Association organised its annual General Assembly in Brussels and the province of Eastern-Flanders. The four-day event, that was hosted with the support of the Association Royale des Demeures Historiques et Jardins de Belgique, included  a successful conference entitled “Europe’s Private Heritage at Risk”, visits to historic houses in the area around Ghent and a prestigious gala dinner attended by, among others, S.A.R. the Prince Lorenz of Belgium.

Every year, the European Historic Houses Association organizes a General Assembly for its governors, the representatives of its member associations and observers from across Europe. This year, this event took place between the 1st and the 4th of October. These four days provided a perfect opportunity for the association to discuss its accomplishments of the past year, as well as to agree on the priorities and challenges for the years to come. At the same time, it was an occasion to share best practices and innovative projects for the preservation of Europe’s fragile historic houses.

One priority that came up repeatedly in both the formal meetings and the visits to historic houses in Eastern Flanders was the issue of financing. Our members are often, and rightly so, proud to manage historic buildings and art collections. However, with this privilege come enormous responsibilities. For example, with regards to the high standards that exist for renovating historic houses. Attaining these standards can be a significant financial burden and the impressive work owners of historic houses do, often with very limited funds deserves to be recognized and supported by the relevant authorities.

The European Historic Houses Association strongly believes that authorities should sustain this hard work by owners by providing fiscal incentives. The potential such measures have was not only clear from the discussions between our members, it was also apparent during the visits to the castles of Beerlegem, Nokere, Huysse, Ooidonk and Leeuwergem. The passionate stories of the castle owners during these visits shed light on the enormous cost associated with, but also on the necessity of, preserving and renovating fragile Historic Heritage.

The recommendations of the European Parliament in its recent resolution ‘Towards an Integrated Approach to Cultural Heritage in Europe’ to apply lower VAT rates and exchange best practices on fiscal policies for the restoration, preservation and conservation of cultural heritage, were therefore very encouraging. These suggestions from the Parliament will be central to the actions of the European Historic Houses Association and its members on both the European and the national level in the years to come.

The need to sustain Europe’s cultural heritage was also apparent in the conference “Europe’s Private Heritage at Risk” on the 2nd of October. In the opening speech to this forum, Mr. Nymand-Christensen, the Deputy Director of the DG Education and Culture of the European Commission, emphasised that good cooperation between public authorities and owners is vital to the sustainability of cultural goods. Building on this, the panellists, including politicians, owners of historic houses, representatives of civil society and police officers, discussed on the topics of “Best ways to sustain our cultural heritage” and “Best ways to protect our cultural goods”.

One area in which they clearly identified a need for increased collaboration is the issue of the illicit trafficking of cultural goods. Stolen goods can cross borders easily, and it is important that law enforcement units work with owners to be able to quickly trace these objects. Françoise Bortolotti, an officer on Interpol’s art unit, stressed that stolen works of art can only be identified and repatriated if the owners provide pictures and date adhering to the standardized criteria of Object ID.

Next year, the programme of the General Assembly will be split in two, with the traditional visits and gala dinner being hosted by the Österreichischer Burgenverein in Austria in May, and the General Assembly itself as well as the annual European Historic Houses Conference taking place in October in Brussels. Preparations for these events have already started and the team of the European Historic Houses Association looks forward to once again hosting its members for enriching visits and discussions.

Fons Wilmes

The full programme of the event is available on our website.

European Parliament Resolution, “Towards an integrated approach to cultural heritage in Europe”, 8 September 2015, 2014/2149(INI).

The requirements of Object ID can be consulted online here.