UNESCO: “Cooperating with neighbours makes all the difference!”

Last October, local stakeholders from Luxembourg, Germany and France signed a letter of intent to present the Moselle Valley’s candidacy as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Marc Weyer, a winemaker and president of the Terroir Moselle EEIG (European Economic Interest Grouping), who is heavily involved in the project, outlines this huge challenge.

How did the idea of applying for the Moselle Valley – from its confluence with the Rhine (Koblenz) to its source (Remiremont) – to join the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage list come about?

The idea came from Germany. In 2014, our neighbours set up the Welterbe Moseltal (Moselle Valley World Heritage) association in the belief that if the Upper Middle Rhine Valley was good enough to be listed (editor’s note: it was added in 2002), then the Moselle was just as worthy of inclusion. A group of winemakers from Cochem set the project in motion, notably including Rolf Haxel, former president of the German Moselle Wine-growers’ Federation, who is a good friend. We often work together, particularly through the LEADER Moselle-Franconia LAG (Local Action Group) and Terroir Moselle. He asked me to internationalise the application by seeking involvement from the Luxembourgians and French.

How will opening it up in this way help?

Applying for UNESCO World Heritage status is a competitive process. Countries acting alone find that their applications do not rank highly. However, cooperating with neighbours makes all the difference! You can score a lot of points by taking a transnational approach. This led us to sign the letter of intent in Grevenmacher last October enabling us to launch the project. If we all work together, there is a chance of us succeeding, but if we keep to our own sides of the fence, there is none.

What would be the benefit of UNESCO listing?

An incredible level of visibility! However, the path taken to achieve our objective is perhaps even more beneficial than the outcome itself. Although this will be a very long journey, it will enable us to more clearly define our Moselle identity and allow the three countries to get to know each other better. It’s the ideal opportunity for us all to form a network! If we are able to move forward together, that will already be an achievement. 

To what extent does the listing of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley provide a template?

It’s true that we have a lot in common: wine, heritage and history, but copying them is not good enough. We need to put together a much more in-depth application to develop our candidacy. Producing wine is alone no guarantee of success. There are many wine-producing regions, some with more impressive landscape than ours. Take the Douro in Portugal for example. We need to develop stronger arguments. The fact that we are a transnational group will enable us to promote a different narrative.

If we all work together, there is a chance of us succeeding.

The notion of a Moselle identity can be explored. Although a Frenchman from Épinal doesn’t necessarily have much in common with a German from Bernkastel-Kues, an identity is fundamentally the result of mixing and a desire to live together…

So, the common theme is the river. It is the source of the wine culture, traditions and landscapes shaped for the past 2,000 years, as our vineyards were planted by the Romans. This project provides us with an opportunity to reflect and more clearly define who we are, with a view to strengthening our cross-border identity. It requires us to work with multiple partners, some of whom we do not yet know, to assess our strengths and needs.

This will not be easy, with three countries and three languages. 

That’s true – but our history is ultimately very similar. We share a common historic heritage. 

Especially since we have now come to terms with the difficult parts of this history. The Moselle Valley is a microcosm of European history.

All wars are now behind us. The previous generation had different grudges and experiences, but we have put all that to one side. For us, crossing these borders is the most natural thing in the world. We get our hair cut in Germany and buy our bread in France – that’s just how it is. And we pay for things with the same money. It’s incredible what has happened within the space of a few decades. The history of the Moselle reflects the victory of the European spirit. I was born in 1965 and remember customs checks on bridges and needing a huge wallet with space for Deutschmarks, Luxembourg francs and French francs. You had to be careful what you bought across the border as there were restrictions. When you did a larger shop in Trier, you had to declare it and pay tax. If you bought a nice winter jacket, shoes and three pairs of trousers, you had already reached your limit! If the customs officer had had a bad day, he would ask you to open your boot, which could lead to problems. The current set-up is only a few decades old – it’s still relatively new. The idea of taking a backward step is inconceivable and would be a disaster (editor’s note – this interview took place just before self-isolation took hold and a compulsory permit was introduced for crossing the borders)! We need to emphasise this and promote this special characteristic of the Moselle that reflects Europe’s success.

No matter how good the application is, it will only be successful if it garners sufficient support to fund it. What are you hoping for?

It’s true we need money. Nothing can be achieved with nothing. Just look at the application submitted by the Champagne region, which became a World Heritage site in 2015 – it’s fantastic. The problem is time. An application like that one takes ten, fifteen or twenty years to put together. However, policy is rarely planned that far ahead. We need to be persuasive!

In addition to money, an organisation is needed to manage the application. With its extensive know-how on cross-border issues, could Terroir Moselle play this role?

Terroir Moselle is a fantastic example proving that the three countries can work together with the right expertise and motivation. However, this organisation is still too small. It would be impossible. Having said that, our strength lies in our network. We know a lot of people and organisations. We are fully familiar with the German, Luxembourgian and French mentalities, which are all different. If Terroir Moselle is given the appropriate resources, it could be a good starting point, but would it not be better to set up a new organisation?  I’m not sure…

The fact that we are a transnational group will enable us to promote a different narrative.

Its legal form as a European Economic Interest Grouping (EEIG) may be well-suited …

That’s true. Anything is possible under its articles of association. Although its headquarters are in Grevenmacher, it can operate anywhere. The LEADER programme defining Terroir Moselle’s operational areas is due to end in 2022. A new strategy must therefore be developed for the next seven years. One potential avenue to explore is the set-up of a cross-regional management team, which would look at the UNESCO application as well as other cross-border issues. A development concept is already in place for the Upper Moselle, where an agreement has recently been signed between Luxembourg and Germany. Funds from both sides of the border have been used to appoint an officer charged with making progress on addressing everyday cross-border issues such as transport. There is no doubt that opportunities for collaboration exist… 

And Luxembourgians are good advocates for international unity, if only for their language skills…

(Laughs) Yes, it’s true that languages are one of our strengths. But even in terms of distance, Ehnen is at the mid-point of the Moselle, so Luxembourg would be a logical focus. The country also embodies the European spirit as symbolised by Schengen.

This project is run by local stakeholders operating within homogeneous organisations known as Local Action Groups (LAGs) backed by European funds earmarked for developing rural areas (LEADER). Here is a concrete example of the benefits of EU programmes that are sometimes difficult to understand… 

Absolutely – this is a bottom-up approach with regions taking ownership of their development within the framework of organisations developed by Europe. Collaboration among LAGs definitely makes things easier as we are organised in a similar way. Cooperation has been more effective since the LEADER organisations were created. For example, in France, we have seen that the Lorraine region has been more eager to collaborate with us since French regional reform and the creation of the Grand Est region, which is a really large entity. Ultimately, they identify more naturally with the cross-border Grande Région than the new Grand Est region. The Champagne and Alsace regions are distant and sociologically very different.

World Heritage is UNESCO’s most prestigious list, but there are others. Would you potentially be interested in these?

Yes, why not.  The Man and the Biosphere Programme is also of interest to us. This would require us to identify thematic clusters based on our strengths (nature, cultural heritage, traditions, people, etc.) and link these together. This more flexible concept might also be very well suited to our region.

Some critics claim that if the valley were to become a World Heritage site, it could be subject to protective measures. For instance, plans for a bridge were blocked in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley. What is your opinion on this?

We have to consider all these issues to clearly determine what we want for the future. However, immobilising the region is clearly not ideal either.

The history of the Moselle reflects the victory of the European spirit.

As a winemaker how would you describe your relationship with colleagues in neighbouring countries?

Although we’re all competitors, and that also applies to the Luxembourgian winemakers, we have a very good relationship.  The syndicates work very well. For instance, we are talking about introducing a transnational PDO. This protected designation of origin would represent an opportunity for the large cellars, enabling the Moselle brand to be developed on a larger scale. It would help us access major international markets due to higher volumes. The main problem is deciding on a name as “Moselle” is already taken. And the national appellation committees are very rigorous…

Ultimately, isn’t the main reason for plans to apply for UNESCO World Heritage status to send a message that three neighbouring regions in different countries are keen to work together and join forces to offer their residents a shared future?

Absolutely. If our regions are to develop in an intelligent and coordinated way over the next fifty years, transnational management is essential. Although this transcends the UNESCO framework, the application is nevertheless very important in terms of uniting people and learning to work together even more effectively. Take the issue of property. People especially from the younger generation are understandably keen to work in Luxembourg, but are obliged to live in Germany or France as it is extremely expensive to live in Luxembourg. So, they move to these countries with their children, who consequently do not attend school in Luxembourg. As a result, cultural and sports clubs, which are so important for life in our cities and villages, will also struggle to survive.  This is a universal problem and there is an urgent need to reflect jointly on how to develop in the most harmonious possible way in everyone’s interests.


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