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European Union Withdraws Cultural Funding from Southern Italy

According to a report by Tina Lepri and Hannah McGivern in the Art Newspaper, three regions in southern Italy—Sicily, Calabria, and Campania—have failed to spend hundreds of millions of euros given to them as part of the European Union’s culture and tourism funding. Sicily alone has had about $57.7 million in cultural funding withdrawn by the EU, since it was not spent before the end of 2015. A report from Brussels listing the projects that were proposed by Sicily for funding between 2007 and 2013, but which did not receive it, show a long list of errors—badly written proposals, inconsistent figures, late applications, and requests sent to wrong email addresses.

This mismanagement of EU funds is apparently threatening many Sicilian heritage sites. An $11.3 million project to repair the Swabian Castle at the port of Augusta, built by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II in the thirteenth century, was rejected for funding because of “inconsistent figures and other bureaucratic errors.” After the nonprofit Italia Nostra filed a formal complaint, the state seized the castle last February, saying that it posed “a grave risk to public safety.” Compounding all this, the president of Sicily, Rosario Crocetta, his predecessor, Raffaele Lombardo, and four regional managers are currently under investigation for “neglect of duty” and damaging the area’s cultural heritage.

The EU rejected a request for about $2.7 million from the Archaeological Museum of Aidone in Sicily to renovate its galleries, due to incomplete documentation and the lack of an “economic framework” from the museum. Grants adding up to about $79.3 million have also been recalled by the EU, after determining the funds were misspent by the Sicilian government. For instance, Sicily has spent $107.7 million from the European Regional Development Fund on 209 “major tourism events,” including an illuminated staircase for a saint’s festival at Caltagirone, a 10km road race at Castelbuono, and the living nativity scene at Custonaci.

Naples in Campania, meanwhile, failed to spend $113.3 million in EU funding that had been reserved for the conservation of churches and monuments in its city center—a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995—as well as various urban renewal projects. Just eight of twenty-eight planned projects were completed prior to the 2015 deadline, but Naples’s city councillor for urban policies has claimed that the funding deadline was not realistic for the scale of the work.

Mechtild Rössler, the director of the UNESCO World Heritage Center, wrote to the Italian culture ministry and the Italian delegation to UNESCO last January demanding an explanation for the delays, as UNESCO is compelled by its operational guidelines to look into any claims that a World Heritage Site has “seriously deteriorated” or that “the necessary corrective measures have not been taken within the time proposed.”