By Jef Schram, from The Netherlands, Policy Officer, European Commission, Secretariat-General, Document Management Policy unit, Belgium
Cooperation between the Archives of the Member States is not a new phenomenon. It started in the early 1990s following a Council resolution and a first report on Archives in the European Union published by the European Commission in 1994. This report led to a reaction from the Council of Ministers in the form of the Council Conclusions which became an important catalyst in promoting co-operation between archives in Europe for nearly a decade. To give just one example, the organisation of the large three yearly DLM Forum conferences, the first of which was organised in Brussels in 1996, is a direct result of these Council Conclusions.
Since then co-operation has both widened and deepened. Co-operation between archives has spread further geographically following successive enlargements of the Union. The number of Member States, and thus the number of participating national archives, has increased from 12 at the beginning of the 1990s to 27 today. While this increase in numbers has brought increased benefits and opportunities, it also poses challenges.
These challenges became especially apparent during the first years of this decade, on the eve of the enlargement with ten new member states. In 2003 the Council therefore adopted a new resolution that called for an assessment of the situation of public archives in the European Union, taking particular account of the enlargement. The Commission was asked to submit a report that would address the possibilities for enhanced co-ordination and co-operation.
In response to this resolution, a group of experts from the archives of the EU Member States prepared a comprehensive Report on archives in the enlarged European Union. The Report contains both an analysis of the situation of archives in the European Union and a number of proposed actions and orientations for increased co-operation between archives at the European level. It led the adoption of the Council Recommendation on priority actions to increase cooperation in the field of archives in Europe of 14 November 2005.
The 2005 Council Recommendation marks a new phase in cooperation between archives. It calls for the creation of a European Archives Group (EAG), which was promptly established by the European Commission at the beginning of 2006. The EAG consists of experts from the archives of the member states and the EU institutions, whereby the member states are usually represented by their National Archivist or the deputy.
The EAG ensures co-operation and co-ordination on general matters relating to archives and to follow-up the work referred to in the Report on Archives. More in particular, the EAG has worked to implement the five priority measures for archival cooperation set out in the Council Recommendation, whereby the following has been achieved:
- Preservation of and prevention of damage to archives in Europe
Good progress has been made in regional cooperation between the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany, notably towards the development of an internet based service with detailed information on disaster prevention and disaster management. The ultimate goal is to expand this internet database as networking tool at a European level. This will allow archives across the EU to prepare and to react effectively to catastrophes.
- Reinforcement of European interdisciplinary cooperation on electronic documents and archives
In 2008 the European Commission published the updated model requirements for the management of electronic records (MoReq2), which is set to become a standard for records management software in Europe and beyond. The governance of MoReq2 is the responsibility of the DLM Forum, which reports to the EAG on a regular basis.
- Creation and maintenance of an internet portal to the archival heritage of the Union
A consortium of 12 National Archives and the European Digital Library Foundation is preparing an internet portal for archives in Europe. The portal will make it possible to retrieve archival information in Europe regardless of national, institutional or sector boundaries. It will be linked to EUROPEANA and will contribute to fulfilling the vision of a common multilingual access point to Europe’s digital cultural and scientific heritage.
- Promotion of best practice with regard to national and European law with regard to archives
In cooperation with the European Branch of the International Council on Archives, a legal database for archives in Europe, EURONOMOS, was developed. Euronomos will provide access to archival and related legislation as well as interpretative and contextual information. The project is off to a good start, its future success will depend on the continued cooperation of the member states, which provide the content.
- Measures to prevent theft and facilitate the recovery of stolen documents
A working group for measures to prevent theft in archives was chaired by the Swedish Riksarkivet. In June 2007 the group presented a report based on a survey of almost 200 archives throughout Europe that gives insight into the nature and extent of the problem. The group then developed guidelines for the prevention of theft that will serve as a common tool for archival institutions. A declaration on the prevention of theft in archives and the fight against their illegal trade was adopted by the Heads of the National Archives of the 27 Member States in November 2008 .
In the summer of 2008 the EAG adopted a progress report that sets out not only the achievements with regard to the implementation of the 2005 Council Recommendation but also identifies a number of challenges that lie ahead. These challenges focus on the changing role of public archives in e-government, the relationship between online and onsite access to archives, the re-use of public sector information, plans to strengthen archival networks and, finally, the development of a new generation of professional archives managers in a European context.
Co-operation between the archives of the EU Member States has moved forward since the adoption of the Council Recommendation in 2005. As in the past, such cooperation is an evolutionary process, built on shared interests and ambitions and the recognition that co-operation should, and can, be mutually beneficial. On this basis, co-operation between archives in Europe has been surprisingly successful over the last two decades. In order to continue that success, the National Archives services of the EU member states will continue to work together and the European Commission will continue to support the work of the European Archives Group.
The opinions expressed in this article represent the views of its author only and cannot be taken to represent an official position of the European Commission.
European Commission, Archives in the European Union. Report of the Group of experts on the Coordination of Archives
, Brussels – Luxembourg, 1994
 OJ C 235, 23.8.1994, p.3
 OJ C 113, 13.5.2003, p.2
 COM(2005) 52 final.
 OJ L 312, 29.11.2005, p.55
 COM(2008)500 of 1.8.2008; SEC(2008)2364 of 1.8.2008