Cultural Routes (CRs) of the Council of Europe (CoE) have been established for the past 29 years, stressing the importance of European identities. The CoE Enlarged Partial Agreement (EPA) on CRs currently comprises 32 routes.

CRs are used as powerful tools to promote and preserve EU’s shared and diverse cultural identities. CRs provide a better understanding of the history of Europe through interregional exchanges of people, ideas and cultures. CoE CRs combine tangible and intangible heritage, illustrating and celebrating the exchanges, cultures and traditions that have shaped Europe over the millennia.

The impacts of CRs on SMEs’ innovation and competitiveness have been highlighted by a study financed under the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP). This study concluded that: CRs are at the heart of cultural tourism development in Europe; they have achieved a noteworthy impact and progress, and shown remarkable potential for SME generation, networking, social cohesion, intercultural dialogue, and for promoting the image of Europe. Established on cultural and social principles, CRs represent a source of innovation, creativity, small-business creation, and cultural tourism products and services development.

A higher profile strategy at European level is recommended in view of the opportunities for exploiting the cultural tourism potential, including inter-alia a better articulating the added value of the cultural tourism sector, related SMEs, and their networks and clusters for economic and social development of CR destinations. CRs can offer unique, attractive and viable investment opportunities for Growth & Jobs. The evaluation of CRs in this respect is of high relevance to improving regional development policy instruments with mainstreaming to OPs & ESIFs.

Cultural Routes are instrumental in the European context, by promoting common European identity, deploying heritage and traversing borders for cultural tourism, as well as contributing to regional development by creating new jobs and new businesses, mainly SMEs and micro-enterprises.

Europe 2020 growth strategy aims for the EU to become a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy. The Cult-Ring project has clear and strong synergies with the EU2020 strategy, in terms of cultural tourism sustainability and it addresses four of the EU2020 objectives, on employment (policy instruments on Growth & Jobs), innovation (new forms of communicating heritage along cultural routes), social inclusion (through accessibility to heritage along cultural routes) and education (through education and training programmes involved in CRs).

Interreg Europe programme Priority Axis 4, Investment priority 6(c) is about 'conserving, protecting, promoting and developing natural and cultural heritage', which are strong features of CRs in practice and on the ground. Specific Objective 4.1 is about 'Improve the implementation of regional development policies and programmes, in particular Investment for Growth and Jobs and, where relevant, European Territorial Cooperation programmes, in the field of the protection and development of natural and cultural heritage'. CRs address this SO 4.1, as a means of promoting investments that lead to job creation through development and promotion of European heritage, with appropriate policies.

Interregional cooperation can greatly contribute to the above important issues on investments in CRs for Growth & Jobs, on related policy learning and implementation. CRs are mostly interregional by design. There is a need for sharing best CR practices, exchange of experience and developing CRs in improving policy instruments and preparing action plans for implementation with monitoring, with CR policy learning and capacity building activities.

The Workshop will assess the performance of existing CRs, certified by the Council of Europe, ex-post in terms of their potential contribution to socio-economic development, direct & indirect benefits for Growth & Jobs.

Six CoE CRs through the partner regions are selected: Via Francigena (Lazio Region IT), Saint Olav Ways (Vastra Gotaland region SE), The Hansa (VTA LV), Santiago De Compostela (CIM Alto Minho PT), Phoenicians (Pafos RBT CY), Iter Vitis (LP RCM EL).

The  assessment will focus in terms of stimulating cultural tourism, particularly in remote & lagging areas, and for the contribution they make to local communities such as:

- economic development & employment via the creation of tourism SMEs

- implementation of a variety of innovative practices within such SMEs

- advancing cultural understanding of the local population and CR visitors through the preservation of heritage and traditions

- increasing the overall attractiveness of destinations

- retaining local populations and improving their quality of life

- raising awareness of a common cultural heritage via open cultural events and festivals, as well as by means of social media.

A study visit to Hansa old city of Riga will follow.