The 5th and 6th of October, the European Historic Houses Associations organised its annual General Assembly in Brussels. This two-day event included a successful conference entitled ”Education, training and innovation for better management of historic houses”, a prestigious gala dinner and the General Assembly followed by a lunch between the governors. 

Every year, the European Historic Houses Association organizes a General Assembly for its governors, the representatives of its member associations and observers from all across Europe. This year, this event took place the 5th and 6th of October. These two days provided a great opportunity for the association to discuss its achievements of the past year and to define its new priorities and challenges for the years to come. It was also a good occasion for the attendees to share their best practices and innovative ideas to ensure the preservation of Europe’s rich, but still fragile, cultural heritage.

The event started with a conference on “Education, training and innovation for better management of historic houses” that shed light on one of the biggest challenges historic houses’ private owners have to face today: the rapid evolution of the sector. It is indeed crucial for private owners to innovate and find new solutions in order to ensure the preservation and continuity of their historic residences that are more and more difficult to maintain in the current context. The speakers, including Ms. Martine Reicherts, Director of the DG Education and Culture, called for more initiatives that would outstrip the traditional approaches. Many different practical examples and good practices were shared during this conference.

It is becoming apparent that a more entrepreneurial approach would help private owners to promote further their historic houses and make public opinion more aware of the necessity to preserve such a rich heritage. A closer collaboration between private owners, public authorities and the professionals working in the field historic houses conservation could certainly give a second life to our European cultural heritage while raising awareness. As the current situation appears to be more and more critical, there is a substantial need for innovation and trans-sectorial collaboration.

One of the main priorities that came up during the General Assembly was the “European year of Cultural Heritage” that will be launched by the EU in 2018. All the governors recognized that this event presents a very rare and great opportunity for the association to gain more visibility and exposure. To this end, the possibility of creating a European opening day of privately owned historic houses the same year was proposed and widely discussed between the members of the association; the main idea being to shed light on the major role played by private owners in preserving our European cultural heritage. Nevertheless, it was also underlined that such a project would require a strong commitment and support from the national associations.

The governors discussed the very sensitive issue of the TVA rates on restoration, preservation and conservation of cultural heritage. It was also an occasion to stress the positive social and economic impact brought to the society by privately owned historic houses. Although the EU can only give recommendations on this issue (TVA rates are fixed by member states), actions at the national level should be foreseen to pressure governments.

The European Historic Houses Association is still following two important directives on energy –the European Efficiency Directive and the revision of the directives on Energy Performance of Buildings- that are currently being examined in first reading by the European Parliament and the Council of ministers. As it seems the adoption of these directives has been delayed, the European Historic Houses Association will work on fully understanding the reasons behind this delay and act consequently if the protection of our cultural heritage happened to be threatened by these negotiations.

It has finally been decided that next year, the programme of the General Assembly will be split in two, with a field visit in Catalonia in May, and the General Assembly itself as well as the annual European Historic Houses conference and the European Historic Houses Association Award ceremony taking place the 16th of October in Brussels.

EHHA Programme General Assembly 05-06.10.2016