The initial idea for the "European city of culture" is said to have originated from a chat between the former Greek and French Ministers for Culture, Merlina Mercouri and Jacques Lang, while they were waiting for a flight at Athens airport in January 1985.
Ms Mercouri followed the idea up and, in June 1985, the European City of Culture project was launched – by Resolution of the EU Culture Ministers – with the aim of helping to bring the people of Europe closer together.
From 1985 to 2004, the European Cities of Culture were chosen by EU Culture Ministers (meeting in the Council), with reference to the criteria set out in the Council conclusions of 12 November 1992.
In 1990 the Culture Ministers adopted another Resolution setting up a parallel cultural event: the European month of culture. The event took place each year in a city, located in any European country based on democracy, pluralism and the "rule of law" Fundamentally this event was designed for the benefit of countries in central and eastern Europe at a very specific period of their history. It is no longer operating.
From the beginning, the European Commission gave given financial support these two events. A study on the Capitals between 1985 and 1994 (‘European Cities of Culture and Cultural Months'), by John Myerscough, 1994) demonstrated the positive impact of the event on the cities concerned. As an exception, 9 cities were selected in 2000 as European Capitals of Culture, for symbolic reasons.
The extremely thorough "Palmer study" took stock of the event and its development, studying all cities that were Capitals or hosted a cultural month between 1995 and 2004. It demonstrates that the event can be used as a catalyst for the cultural development and the transformation of a city.
This study assessed the potential of the event and concluded it was under-used. Another study (Economy and Culture) in Europe, 2006, par KEA European Affairs) highlights the role of culture in the EU project and the socio-economic benefits of this sector in Europe.
The weaknesses of the procedure set up by Decision 1419/1999/EC became apparent:
Since then a new selection procedure has been introduced – by Decision on a European Capital of Culture – 1622/2006/EC.
The new procedure – used to select cities from the 2013 title onwards – sets up a competition between cities within in the host countries. Their proposals are assessed by an international panel composed of 13 members against specific criteria. See selection procedure.
The order of host countries up to 2019 has not changed.
Summary of the 25 year anniversary conference [2 MB] on the European Capitals of Culture
The brochure: the road to success from 1985 to 2010 [8 MB]
European Capital of Culture for the years 2007 to 2019